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Minkah Fitzpatrick is looking to be moved around more in the Steelers’ defense in 2020

According to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, Fitzpatrick is hoping to disguise the Steelers’ defense in order keep their opponents guessing

NFL: DEC 22 Steelers at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 18th pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Minkah Fitzpatrick, All-Pro Safety.

For the first time since 1967, the Pittsburgh Steelers or not expected to have a first-round draft pick. Yes, it is possible the Steelers could somehow find a way to trade back into the first round, but I would not hold my breath. Instead, the Steelers have a player who has already contributed an All-Pro season and is still his rookie contract for two more years before the Steelers can exercise a fifth-year option. It was a hefty price to pay for Fitzpatrick, but one well worth it.

Now that Fitzpatrick has two games shy of an entire season under his belt in Pittsburgh, he’s ready to be able to expand his role in the Steelers’ secondary.

“I don’t want to see that drop-off,” Fitzpatrick told ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “You know what I’m saying? I wanted to continue to have that impact on my team and have that impact on games because it’s no fun when you’re in a critical moment and you can’t do nothing about it.”

What Fitzpatrick is referencing is his drop off in key defensive statistics towards the end of 2019. It is not that Fitzpatrick‘s production went away, only his opportunity to make plays as teams steered clear of him as much as possible. But in 2020, Fitzpatrick is hoping for a new solution which will give him more play-making chances.

“When you move around,” Fitzpatrick continued, “And you’re a moving piece on the chessboard, it’s hard to defend and you can’t just say, ‘All right, the quarterback is going to look at me and say he’s going to be in this spot every snap,’ like I was last year. It’s going to be harder and it’s going to be more difficult to take me out of the game.”

Fitzpatrick’s 2019 statistics back up the notion he was taken out of the game the final seven weeks of the season. After notching five interceptions, eight passes defensed, and a fumble recovery in his first seven games in Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick only saw one pass defensed and one fumble recovery over the final seven games. For the most part, teams just weren’t trying to make plays anywhere close to him.

Without the benefit of training camp and having to jump on head coach Mike Tomlin‘s proverbial “moving train”, Fitzpatrick was very grateful to only have to play one position with the Steelers in 2019. In fact, it was his use throughout the secondary in Miami which factored into him requesting a trade.

But being a moving piece is different than playing multiple positions. A prime example is recently selected Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu who played the strong safety position but was utilized all over the field. One of the keys to Polamalu’s success was the familiarity he had with teammate Ryan Clark who admitted he often handled the responsibilities based on what Polamalu was doing.

With an entire off-season and training camp to prepare the defense for 2020, Fitzpatrick will need to continue to grow with fellow safety Terrell Edmunds. If the two players can begin to play off of each other much like Polamalu and Clark, the guessing game the Steelers defense employed during Polamalu and Clarks’ time together could be utilized once again.

Whether or not the two first round draft picks from 2018 can continue to gel together remains to be seen. Minkah Fitzpatrick has already been All-Pro, so it’s Edmunds who may have a long way to go in order to make possible the sort of defensive moves Fitzpatrick has in mind for 2020.