Analytics suggest Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick is best safety in the NFL
By Tommy Jaggi
Minkah Fitzpatrick has been disrespected in safety rankings, but here’s why advanced analytics suggest the Steelers safety is the best in the game.
The Steelers have always had pretty good defenses, but the team certainly went through a drought a few years back when their offense was great and their defense was lacking. Fortunately, this turned around fast after trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019.
Obviously, there are many other factors that play into this success and a handful of other players who deserves credit. T.J. Watt was been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate each of the past two seasons and is, in my opinion, the single most valuable asset on the Steelers moving forward. However, that is to take nothing away from the spectacular performances we have seen from Fitzpatrick.
In fact, analytics might go as far as to suggest that Minkah Fitzpatrick has been the best safety in the NFL over the past two seasons. Here’s a chart of advanced statistics I comprised from Pro Football Reference that shows how Minkah performed in relation to other top NFL safeties over their past 30 games:
To no surprise, not all media platforms agree that Fitzpatrick is the top safety in the league. In fact, there are some who barely have him in their top five. Pro Football Focus’s Sam Monson recently wrote an article ranking the top 32 safeties in the game entering the 2021 season. He had Minkah ranked 5th.
Where should the Steelers star safety be ranked in the NFL?
Obviously, this is a subjective question, and as a Steelers fan, I can admit that there is probably some bias that comes into play here. However, I try to approach everything from an objective angle, and I just can’t make a stronger case for anyone being a better safety in the league than Fitzpatrick at this point in time.
Over the past two seasons, Minkah has outpaced the competition in interceptions and takeaway-worthy plays while surrendering a remarkably low amount of passing yards in coverage and allowing a very low passer rating of just 56.0 to opposing quarterbacks. Though he doesn’t necessarily lead in every category, it seems like each other top NFL safety has had some noticeably bigger flaws over the past two seasons.
Justin Simmons (PFF’s number one safety), for example, surrendered more than twice as many receptions and yards as Fitzpatrick over the past 30 games, while Harrison Smith has an approximate value rating that is less than half that of Fitzpatrick. In addition, players like Marcus Williams and Jesse Bates have surrendered more yards and touchdowns while generating fewer takeaways.
I know that Minkah Fitzpatrick plays on a great defense, and we can’t ignore that the fast pressure the Steelers generate certainly helps him in some of these areas. Still, it’s hard to fault him for being great over the past two years. The two-time first-team All-Pro will look to put this argument to bed with another Defensive Player of the Year-like performance in 2021.