Why Steelers Kevin Colbert trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick was right move

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass intended for Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass intended for Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The Steelers safeties before Minkah Fitzpatrick were young and inexperienced. This lack of experience lead to mistakes and shortcomings in their defensive play. Gaining Minkah has proved to be the right move.

The Steelers safeties allowed 240 passing yards, through the first two weeks of the season. Five. The number of 20-plus plays the safeties yielded in the process. Three. The number of touchdowns the last line of defense was responsible for in those first two games.

A team is only as strong as their weakest link, and having the luxury of a top-5 front seven, one would think it would make life easier on the secondary, especially the backend. That hasn’t been the case. Time and time again, 2015 first-round pick SS Terrell Edmunds continues to be a liability in pass coverage, while free-safety seems to be a game of musical chairs.

Consistency is critical in the NFL, and there has been none, from both safety positions. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert quickly realized something needed to change.

In what some would call a perfect storm, rumors started to swirl that DB Minkah Fitzpatrick had requested a trade from the Miami Dolphins. Just one year removed from being the team’s first-round pick, Fitzpatrick wanted out.

Last year, Colbert and his scouting department met extensively with the Alabama product leading up to the draft.

“We really studied Minkah closely in the process leading up to the draft,” said Steelers Head coach Mike Tomlin. “It was no secret that we were in the market for a high-end safety; in fact, we ended up drafting Edmunds later in the round. We did our due diligence, and we looked at Minkah. We knew it was somewhat of a pipe dream because of his global position in the draft. Having gone down there for both Alabama pro days, interviewed him, spent time with him, it really made this process a clean process for Kevin and I in terms of decision making because we had spent that time with him, we did evaluate him and we did have a great deal of comfort in his abilities.”

A team in dire need of positive news after the devastating season-ending loss to QB Ben Roethlisberger, Colbert pulled the trigger and traded for Fitzpatrick. But why? Aside from having a glaring positional need, there is a rhyme behind his reasoning. And it all starts with next year’s NFL draft.

The Steelers could very well have a top-five pick in 2020. 4-12? I can certainly see that happening. But this team doesn’t have too many holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They led the NFL in sacks last year while yielding one of the best defensive front seven’s in the NFL.

If they had potentially kept that top-five pick and went defense, their likely target would’ve been LSU S Grant Delpit. No question about it. But what if another team selected Delpit ahead of them?

That would be a big problem, likely forcing them to trade down, simply because there is a massive drop-off in production from the safety position, so much that I don’t have another safety rated with a first-round grade.

At first glance, you’re probably saying but what about Ohio State DE/OLB Chase Young. Steelers love Buckeyes, but with 2015 first-round pick OLB Bud Dupree balling out in a contract year, he will likely be retained for the long-term, if he can remain consistent. Remember, as I said earlier, consistency is vital in the NFL.

Through three games this season, Dupree has been playing lights out, opposite of OLB T.J. Watt. By my count, Dupree leads the team in tackles of no-gain or for a loss with five.

Also, he leads the team in quarterback pressures resulting in a loss of down with four. No missed assignments in the run game, only one blown coverage in the passing game, you can see why Dupree is on par for a big contract. So no need for Young as the team’s edge-rushers are set.

Now comes value. What’s the Steelers return on their investment when they traded for Fitzpatrick? One word. Versatility.

Fitzpatrick’s rare blend of height, weight, speed, and power allow him to play multiple roles under any NFL scheme. He can line up in the slot, come up in the box or play centerfield, and play all three at a very high level.

This provides not only stability to a once shaky unit, but also affords defensive coordinator Keith Butler the ability to open up the playbook, allowing for more aggressive game-plans.

In his NFL debut, Fitzpatrick wasted no time in displaying his skillset. He picked off San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the first quarter, came up like a heat-seeking missile in run-support, forcing a fumble on RB Raheem Mostert in the second-quarter, and protected the intermediate-to-deep routes, displaying his range, taking away the seams. Simply put, number 39 was all over the field, blowing up plays, and the 49ers had to account for it.

While some NFL insiders and analysts hate the move, like former Steelers S Ryan Clark, I would argue the right move was made, as I countered with my in-depth analysis above.

I hate it and don’t like the move,” ESPN analyst Ryan Clark said during Monday night’s Scott Van Pelt Show. “I didn’t like saying that we can’t possibly get an impact player in the draft that can play the quarterback position, so are we so sure that Mason Rudolph is the guy? Are they so sure that Ben Roethlisberger will be healthy? Are they one player away on defense? Is Minkah Fitzpatrick that player?

“This is a guy who didn’t necessarily want to be a corner in Miami. He didn’t play that position, and that’s where they need help. Pittsburgh has two young safeties. For me, this is a move that was made in a situation where, ‘we’re not very good on defense, there’s a good player that’s available so let’s go get him.’ They didn’t look at the big picture where they are. This doesn’t put them in the playoffs, but it does take away a huge pick in the future.”

Again I disagree. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph is the future. He’s poised inside the pocket, establishes nice relaunching points, keeps eyes downfield, and is exceptionally accurate when going through his progressions.

If the Steelers didn’t feel this way, they wouldn’t have drafted him in the third round. We all witnessed what he can do when given a clean pocket against the 49ers. Now it’s all about building rapport with his skill players, working on their timing.

From one Ryan to another, I guess you can say we agree to disagree. With Steelers GM Kevin Colbert looking at the bigger picture, I can’t help but love the trade.

Next. Answers to Steelers Five Burning Questions week three versus 49ers. dark

The Steelers desperately needed safety help, and Fitzpatrick instantly bolsters that unit, so much, that I believe he will be a first-team All-Pro sooner rather than later. Here We Go!