“Hold onto your horses. There’s a shakeup in the 2020 NFL defensive back rankings.” So says Patrik Walker of CBS Sports HQ in his ranking of the top 10 cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL.
Hold onto your horses indeed. Walker has Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden ranked as the No. 3 cornerback in the entire NFL, behind Marcus Peters of the Baltimore Ravens and Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots.
If you’re a Steelers fan, you have at least some appreciation of Haden’s value to the team; I recently described him as—take your pick here—Pittsburgh’s most underrated, underappreciated or undervalued player.
Walker justifies Haden’s Top 3 ranking by noting that “Haden allowed on[ly] 5.9 yards per target in 2019 and averages lower than a 52 percent completion rate when test[ed]—insane numbers that nudged him past Jalen Ramsey [Los Angeles Rams] on this list.”
Walker also believes that the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh’s secondary has made—and will continue to make a difference—noting how Haden had five interceptions in 2019, “along with 65 combined tackles and 17 pass break-ups,” Walker writes. “If you’re a QB targeting Haden, you’re asking for trouble. He routinely locks down the opposing team’s best wide receiver, and having Minkah Fitzpatrick patrolling behind him truly free[s] him up to do the damage he’s now doing in Pittsburgh.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick Rated the Second-Best Safety in the NFL
Speaking of Minkah Fitpatrick, Walker says the trade from the Miami Dolphins to the Steelers last September has “slingshotted” Fitzpatrick “into the conversation for best safety in the league,” behind No. 1 rated Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs and one slot ahead of Jamal Adams of the New York Jets.
“Fitzpatrick has a rare athletic ability that allows him to play both safety and corner, depending upon the call from the sideline, and he excels in either/both capacities,” Walker writes.
Not surprisingly, Walker isn’t the only NFL analyst highlighting the greatness of Fitzpatrick’s game; Pro Football Focus recently included him on its 2020 All-Under-25 Team.
Steven Nelson: Most Underrated Player?
Meanwhile, there may be a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ effect happening in the Pittsburgh secondary, because free agent addition Steven Nelson had a standout season in 2019, which prompted PFF to name him the Steelers’ most underrated player.
On the other hand, the rising tide theory isn’t working for Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds—at least not yet. Edmunds was recently identified as a good candidate for a hypothetical NFL ‘All-Average Team,’ and some observers believe he’s running out of time to show he’s the long-term answer at his position, with the likes of Cameron Sutton and rookie sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr. nipping at his heels for playing time.
Edmunds was also recently described as the “one weak link” on the Steelers’ Top 10 NFL starting lineup.
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