In light of recent news, the Pittsburgh Steelers look even more like geniuses from the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. Here’s why great safeties are so hard to come by.
When it comes to many positions drafting high in the first round is usually going to secure you a pretty good player. Not when it comes to the safety position. The Steelers were fortunate to be able to land a future Hall of Fame player like Troy Polamalu with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, but great safeties don’t grow in trees.
Since then, Pittsburgh has taken one safety in the first round – Terrell Edmunds in 2018. Edmunds has struggled in his first two seasons and took a step backward in year two. While the talent is there, the evidence shows that he will likely turn out to be just another average NFL safety.
Despite NFL teams spending numerous first-round selections on the safety position over the years, just a small percentage of them have turned out to be great football players. Here’s a look a what I mean:
Despite 19 safeties being drafted in the first round since 2012, just four of them are considered among the best in the league at their position in Harrision Smith (2012), Jamal Adams (2017), Minkah Fitzpatrick (2018), and Derwin James (2018). While Haha Clinton-Dix and Keanu Neal made one Pro Bowl so far in their careers, most of the safeties on this list haven’t met expectations.
Players like Mark Barron, Kenny Vaccaro, and Karl Joseph just turned out to be average NFL safeties, while players like Calvin Pryor and Matt Elam were both out of the league within their first four seasons. Of the 19 safeties drafted in the first round from 2012-2019, just 6 of them have made a Pro Bowl appearance, and only 4 have earned All-Pro honors at some point in their careers.
All of this evidence makes the Steelers look even more like geniuses after the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. Since Polamalu, Pittsburgh has struggled to draft players in the secondary, and have struck out on safeties like Anthony Smith (2006), Shamarko Thomas (2013), Doran Grant (2015), Sean Davis (2016), and maybe even Terrell Edmunds (depending on how he turns things around early in his career).
Though a first-round pick for Minkah seems like a lot at first glance, when you look at in context, it was a terrific move. Elite safeties are as hard to come by as any position in the league, and the bust rate of safeties in the first round is high. The Steelers know as well as anyone that great safeties are hard to come by. They got another great one in Minkah Fitzpatrick.