Minkah Fitzpatrick played at one spot on defense for the Steelers last year. Should Pittsburgh allow him to be more versatile in the secondary?
The Steelers made a rare move last year when they traded for Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick after the start of the season. The former 11th overall pick of 2018 filled in for the injured Sean Davis in Pittsburgh and went on to earn first-team All-Pro honors in just his second NFL season.
In an attempt to make the transition easier for the young defensive back, the Steelers kept him firmly rooted to one position last season: free safety. While he had obvious success there early in the season, teams began to avoid Minkah at the back end of the defense. In fact, Fitzpatrick touched the football just twice over the past 7 weeks of the season (1 pass deflection and 1 fumble recovery).
As a result, Fitzpatrick has expressed his interest in being more versatile in the secondary this season. Here is some of what he had to say to ESPN in an interview last week:
“I don’t want to see that drop-off. I wanted to continue to have that impact on my team and have that impact on games. Because it’s no fun when you’re in a critical moment and you can’t do nothing about it. When you move around and you’re a moving piece on the chessboard, it’s hard to defend and you can’t just say, ‘All right, the quarterback is going to look at me and say he’s going to be in this spot every snap,’ like I was last year. It’s going to be harder and it’s going to be more difficult to take me out of the game.”
Fitzpatrick argues that being ‘a moving piece of the chessboard’ will give him more control of the game in crucial moments. But is allowing him to play multiple positions really the best thing for him?
If you recall, there was initial controversy over the Fitzpatrick trade. Some NFL analysts weren’t satisfied with what they saw from him over his first season in Miami, and they were afraid it was a desperation move by a team who just lost their free safety for the season.
Before Fitzpatrick arrived in Pittsburgh, the safety admitted that he was playing out of position. The Dolphins had him closer to the line of scrimmage in an attempt to make more plays. However, that strategy had the opposite effect. While Fitzpatrick earned a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in just two games in Miami this season, he was often bullied against the run.
The Steelers have proven that Fitzpatrick does his best work when he can see the whole field in front of him and use his speed and instincts to break on the ball. He was terrific at deep safety and is one of the few players in the NFL who can be a trusted security blanket at single-high safety.
After already witnessing Fitzpatrick play out of position in Miami and how well he did for the Steelers at free safety in 2019, it would be a foolish move by the coaching staff to try to change things up.
I completely understand that Fitzpatrick wanted to be around the ball more often in the second half of the season. But he’s a 23-year old All-Pro at free safety. Minkah doesn’t have to play all around the field to prove his value to Pittsburgh’s defense.