Alabama Crimson Tide football has a representative sitting alone at the top of the NFL safety rankings, following a poll conducted by one NFL insider.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Wednesday, July 12 conducted a survey among coaches, executives, scouts and players in ranking the league’s top 10 safeties ahead of the 2023 season. And checking in at No. 1? Past Tide star and Pittsburgh Steelers prized defender Minkah Fitzpatrick. And the three-time Pro Bowler earns his ranking after putting together a career-best six interceptions. And that wasn’t his only gleaming stat.
“Fitzpatrick is back on top after perhaps his most dominant season as a pro, once again rewarding Pittsburgh for the stellar trade it made with Miami four years ago,” Fowler wrote. “His 28.2% ball hawk rate led the NFL, with 11 pass breakups and six interceptions on 39 targets as the nearest defender.”
And how talented is Fitzpatrick’s ability to chase down the football? Fowler described it as: “Fitzpatrick’s ball-tracking skills are so good, that he can intercept a pass and sell hot dogs at Gate B of Acrisure Stadium on the same play.”
Exec Says ‘It’s Not Close’ in Comparing Fitzpatrick to Peers
Fowler isn’t the only one who raved about Fitzpatrick’s play with the Steelers. An anonymous executive who spoke to Fowler believes “it’s not close” in placing Fitzpatrick at the top pedestal.
“Best in the game, and it’s not close,” the NFL personnel director said before diving into why he believes Fitzpatrick is the best. “You have to keep him moving because if he’s stationary, coordinators can plan for him, but every single play, there’s that feeling of, where is he going to be? Post, slot, nickel, box. He’s capable, willing and able to handle all of that. He’s brilliant, works, studies, loves the game.”
Fitzpatrick earned his No. 1 ranking ahead of, arguably, the most complete safety in the NFL by other analysts and outlets in Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers. James wound up with more tackles (115), solo stops (64), tackles for a loss (five) and sacks (four) compared to Fitzpatrick.
However, the Steeler and Tide standout had James beat in two ball-hawking categories: pass deflections (11) and in picks with six. James had six pass breakups and two picks.
Checking in at No. 3 per Fowler’s poll was Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos. Budda Baker of the Arizona Cardinals was voted No. 4 in the poll. Rounding out the top five was Jevon Holland of the Miami Dolphins.
Fitzpatrick wasn’t the lone Tide safety who made Fowler’s list. Xavier McKinney of the New York Giants earned honorable mention recognition after finishing last season with 45 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
“Young, consistent, big starting-level safety,” an NFC scout said to Fowler. “One of the leaders on that [Giants] defense, versatile — not a lot of flash or high-end athletic ability compared to some of the other top safeties.”
What Fitzpatrick Has Done in the NFL Post ‘Bama
Fitzpatrick’s streak of dominance not only comes following that blockbuster trade to the Steelers midway through his second NFL season, but he additionally wasn’t even a top 10 draft pick in the 2018 class. While he was the first safety taken, notable players taken ahead of him? Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen.
Since then, Fitzpatrick has done the following per Pro Football Reference:
- Put together four seasons of producing 79 tackles or more.
- Produce the same number of seasons in solo tackles output.
- Snatch 19 career interceptions, including 5-6 picks in three of his first five seasons.
- Deflect between 9-11 passes in four of five seasons.
Fitzpatrick put together three stellar seasons in Tuscaloosa. He racked up 171 tackles, 110 solo stops, 16.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, five sacks, nine interceptions and 24 pass deflections in his three seasons with ‘Bama.