This is not to say that the Steelers lack top-quality young talent. No doubt linebacker T.J. Watt would have made the list, except he’s a little over-aged; “to be eligible, a player must be younger than 25 years old on Sept. 10, the day the season kicks off.”
As for Fitzpatrick, Sessler says he’s “entirely worth the first-round pick Pittsburgh shipped to Miami” in September of last year, describing Minkah as “the tipping point for a stocked defense.”
“Fitzpatrick zoomed to an All-Pro nod as a ballhawking marauder,” notes Sessler, a writer for Around the NFL, “stacking five interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, nine passes defensed, one pick-six and a fumble taken to the house.”
Fitzpatrick: Steelers’ Defense Will Benefit From Continuity
For his part, Fitzpatrick thinks the Steelers’ defense will benefit from being little-changed since last season. “We have a lot of guys returning,” Fitzpatrick said, during a recent conference call with the media. “There are other teams that half their roster, secondary or linebacker corps, is gone. We are lucky enough not to have that [and] I think it’s definitely an advantage for us.”
In fact, it’s a potential advantage on both sides of the ball. Sure, the Steelers will have at least one new starter on the offensive line, most likely free agent acquisition Stefen Wisniewski, who is slated to take over for Ramon Foster (retired) at left guard. And someone will need to replace the snaps of nose tackle Javon Hargrave, who was lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. But the Steelers’ starting lineups—on offense and defense—are expected to be much the same as last year, and Pittsburgh doesn’t need anyone from its draft class to start in 2020.
Steelers Are Top 10 in Peter King’s Power Rankings
Meanwhile, on Monday morning Peter King released his annual NFL Power Rankings, following up last year’s effort where he had the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 7, those being last year’s Super Bowl teams.
Of course, it’s challenging enough to try to predict the balance of power in the NFL, especially with the season opener still three months away. It’s even trickier during this “unprecedented offseason,” as there are “too many variables, and there’s really no way of knowing how seriously teams are taking the virtual learning,” King writes.
King gives it the old college try—he has the Steelers at No. 10, by the way—but not before relating a recent conversation he had with Peyton Manning, who described how his brother Eli led his New York Giants teammates through detail-oriented workouts/practices during the most recent NFL lockout, and how the extra effort paid off in the form of a Super Bowl title.
“I think the team that wins it all this year is gonna be the team that’s really getting an edge during this time—kind of like the Giants in 2011,” Manning said.
That’s a perfectly reasonable line of thinking, as is the notion that continuity will be a huge plus this year, as there will be less than the usual amount of practice time to integrate rookies and other new players. As noted above, Pittsburgh would appear to have an advantage over most of the rest of the league, at least in terms of its starting lineup.
Of course, a lot hinges on the health of Ben Roethlisberger, not to mention the health of other core players.
“Healthy, this is a Super Bowl-contending team,” King writes. “Without Roethlisberger for any lengthy period, Pittsburgh will struggle to be the sixth or seventh seed in the AFC.”
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