Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick saved what would have been an awful safety group in 2019

Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) /

The Steelers traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick back in September. Here’s why the former first-round pick saved what would have been an awful safety group in 2019.

Kevin Colbert and the Steelers made a very rare move back in September: They traded a first-round pick away for Dolphin’s safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Sean Davis was destined for IR after suffering an injury in week one against the Patriots, and Pittsburgh had a major lack of depth in the secondary.

From the gate, the deal to send Fitzpatrick to the Steelers was under scrutiny. With Ben Roethlisberger watching from the sideline, fans were split on the move. Has Pittsburgh just given up a top draft pick in 2020 for an unproven player from the Miami Dolphins?

While some of the circling questions were justified at the time, it didn’t take long for Fitzpatrick to prove his worth to the Steel City. In his first game with the Steelers on the west coast against the San Francisco 49ers, Minkah managed and interception and forced fumble. Fitzpatrick’s performance caught the eye of millions, and he never looked back.

Adding to his explosive start, the newly acquired safety went on to finish the season with 5 interceptions a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 defensive touchdowns en route to earning first-team All-Pro honors. The young safety has easily proven doubter wrong.

This got me thinking: What would the safety position have looked like this year if Fitzpatrick was not in the picture?

Terrell Edmunds was the Steelers first-round pick in 2018. However, the second-year player didn’t have the breakout season we were hoping for. In fact, he appeared to regress in year two. Edmunds was responsible for zero splash plays – no interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, or sacks. Though he was second on the team in snaps played, he did little in the way of making his name heard.

When Edmunds was noticed, it was typically for something that didn’t go well. He allowed 5 touchdowns thrown his direction this season, surrendered a completion percentage of 72.5 when targeted, and allowed a passer rating of 139.1 on the season.

Edmunds now has just one interception through 31 career starts, and without Fitzpatrick next to him in the back end, the Steelers never would have been able to make as many plays on the defensive side of the ball.

Sean Davis was injured all the way back at the beginning of the season. But even if he would have played the whole year, this safety tandem would have been less than stellar. Like Edmunds, Davis isn’t known for taking the ball away, and he has done so just once since 2017. Davis also surrendered 5 touchdown passes and allowed a 112.4 passer rating when targeted.

But knowing that Davis was injured would have made this group of safeties historically bad for the Steelers. Kameron Kelly saw most of his action in Week 1 against the Patriots. In his lone start, Kelly looked terrible in pass coverage – surrendering 2 touchdowns and allowing a 118.7 passer rating when targeted.

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Though the Steelers fell short of the playoffs in 2019, things would have been much worse in the back end of the defense without Fitzpatrick around. We have seen how good safety play can change the dynamic of the whole defense (Troy Polamalu was one of the most impactful players in the game). At least we can go into next season knowing that we have a difference-maker at the safety position.