Steelers Star Minkah Fitzpatrick Snubbed by NFL Reporter

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Getty Minkah Fitzpatrick reacts to a play.

Troy Polamalu was one of the greats. His star shined so bright it must’ve blinded Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.

In discussing the NFL draft needs of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fellow division rival Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, the topic of defensive backs (not surprisingly) was broached.

“For as good as the Steelers consistently are, they consistently have these glaring holes they never seem to fill,” Florio said on the April 12 episode of Pro Football Talk. “Since Rod Woodson, they haven’t had a high-end corner. Since Troy Polamalu, where is the high-end safety?”

It’s true. The Steelers have a shaky history of drafting “high-end” defensive backs. If that’s what he meant, he should’ve clarified because the way it was stated seemed to totally ignore Minkah Fitzpatrick. His name never even came up in the conversation.

Fitzpatrick was not drafted by the Steelers, but came to them via a 2019 trade with the Miami Dolphins; a package that included their 2020 first-round pick (No. 18).

Since then, he’s been Pittsburgh’s highest-end safety since Polamalu, and following in his Hall of Fame footsteps.

Steelers Defensive Back History Under Kevin Colbert

It’s not that the Pittsburgh Steelers try to not fill the glaring hole of defensive back year after year. They just haven’t been all that successful at it, which made the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade all that more important. Can you imagine where they’d be right now without him?

Then general manager Kevin Colbert finally realized that no matter how desperately he and his scouts were trying to land productive secondary players with longevity via the draft, it just wasn’t clicking. Trading for that proven talent seemed the only way to go. Unfortunately, they struck out on all but Fitzpatrick. Pittsburgh did attempt to fill glaring cornerback holes seven times in Colbert-era trades (most in-draft): Ricardo Colclough, 2004; Allen Rossum, 2008; Bryant McFadden (reacquisition), 2010; Brandon Boykin, 2015; Justin Gilbert, 2016; and, lastly, Deshaun Phillips, 2017.

Nineteen corners were drafted under Colbert (listed here) with William Gay — by virtue of a longer career in Pittsburgh — the most productive draftee statistically. Second is Bryant McFadden whose numbers are eerily close to Cameron Sutton, including years spent in Pittsburgh, but out-tackled him 234 to 168.

Ten fewer safeties were drafted (listed here without Tre Norwood in 2021) with only one exceptional standout. We all know who that was without digging into the numbers. There were four trades for safeties, including a first-round trade up for Polamalu (the first ever for the franchise): Troy Polamalu, 2003; Anthony Smith, 2006; Ryan Mundy, 2008; Shamarko Thomas, 2013; J.J. Wilcox, 2017; and Minkah Fitzpatrick, 2019.

The best Colbert-era free agent safety signing was without question Polamalu’s backfield counterpart, Ryan Clark. For cornerbacks, that distinction belongs to Joe Haden, which says a lot about the lack of success finding top cornerback help from 2000 to 2022.

Scouting Cornerbacks Isn’t Just Tough for Steelers

Of course, it’s not just the Pittsburgh Steelers that strike out often with defensive backs. “Scouting cornerbacks will continue to be one of the hardest jobs in an NFL front office,” former scout turned draft analyst Matt Miller wrote for Bleacher Report. “Each year there are upward of 50 defensive backs drafted into the league, and it remains one of the highest bust-rate positions there is.”

Miller says it’s all about how the player will transition from the collegiate to the pro level.

“Making the decision on which areas a player can and cannot improve upon once in the league makes this a tough job. A seasoned scout can chart every play a cornerback is involved in and still not have a great feel for how well he’ll do in a different scheme or with a better pass rush in front of him.”