With so much talent in the NFL, the safety position is one of the harder positions to rank in 2020. However, Pro Football Network Senior NFL Writer Matt Williamson released his top 25 safeties in the NFL earlier this week. That list includes star Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who proved himself to be one of the top players at the safety position for the Steelers after they acquired him from the Dolphins for a first-round draft pick.
In this article, we will take a look at how did Fitzpatrick landed on the list, and analyze whether his placing is fair?
Minkah Fitzpatrick rated as a top safety in the NFL for 2020
Fitzpatrick, who has a train of hype behind him coming off his first All-Pro season in 2019, is a player that often sees a lot of parity in his ranking across the league. Almost always, he is a top-10 player, but equally a top-5 classification can’t be presumed. Williamson’s list, however, will make Steelers fans ecstatic. Fitzpatrick came in on the list as the best safety in the AFC North and 2nd in the NFL, behind only Derwin James.
“Coming out of Alabama, Fitzpatrick was considered an extremely versatile defensive chess piece, and that is how Miami used him in the pros as well,” Williamson wrote. “After Pittsburgh traded for Fitzpatrick during the season, though, they pretty much put him in the deep middle of the field.”
Fitzpatrick, as Williamson notes, did switch roles when he moved from Miami to Pittsburgh. Instead of playing more in the box and slot, Fitzpatrick played almost exclusively as a single-high safety with some slot reps mixed in. However, those slot reps are inevitable, given the nature of the position. It was more so how Fitzpatrick performed afterward that influenced Williamson’s ranking.
“And Fitzpatrick dominated,” Williamson said. “It got to the point late in the year when it was evident that opposing quarterbacks were not going to throw his direction unless necessary, especially knowing how poor the Steelers offense was at that time.”
As Williamson aptly notes, he shut down the middle of the field for opposing defenses mostly during that second half of the season. That is a rare quality and impact from a singular player, but the Fitzpatrick acquisition really did change the Steelers’ defense that much.
Fitzpatrick’s has immense value to Pittsburgh
When discussing Fitzpatrick’s ranking at the safety position, you always hear that his value on the field is a big reason why he is always considered in the top 10. His five interceptions are the beginning of that argument, as Fitzpatrick reeled in splash play after splash play early in his Steelers career due to great awareness and field vision. However, on a schematic and statistical level, Fitzpatrick’s impact is shown to be even more profound.
For one, Williamson mentioned how teams avoided Fitzpatrick later in the season. Over the final eight weeks of the season, Fitzpatrick was only targeted an astounding two times. That is it. Teams indeed tried to avoid Fitzpatrick at all costs, and for a good reason. When he was targeted, he surrendered a measly 27.3 passer rating after being traded from Miami.
Even the Steelers defensive numbers as a whole pre-Fitzpatrick versus their numbers post-Fitzpatrick are something to behold. Here are some rather astounding splits that showcase Fitzpatrick’s impact:
Yards allowed per Reception:
Passer Rating allowed:
These are just a few of the standout stats that showcase Fitzpatrick’s widescale impact on the Steelers’ defense. On a schematic level, the Steelers were disguising coverages better than ever last year. More importantly, their communication took a massive leap, as Fitzpatrick proved to be an excellent communicator on the back end. He was the missing link on a talented defense and changed the trajectory of the outlook of the Steelers’ entire defense.
Overall thoughts on Fitzpatrick’s ranking
It is tough to knock Williamson’s ranking of Fitzpatrick. I am a firm believer that Fitzpatrick is a top-three safety in the NFL, and there is a legitimate argument to make that he may be the best of them all. However, for that to truly be made the case, another season of high-end, elite play is necessary for him to ascend into that tier.
The stats and film prove just how effective and game-changing Fitzpatrick was for the Steelers defense. Because he is a valuable playmaker and communicator, it only heightens his value. As of now, it should be expected that Fitzpatrick will have yet another elite season with Pittsburgh and hold this ranking firm.