Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the stingiest defensive players in the NFL today. But for a select number of NFL executives, coaches, scouts, and players, he is only second overall to Denver Broncos star Justin Simmons in ESPN’s safety rankings with still a few months away from the 2022 season.

While that’s certainly not a bad thing for Fitzpatrick, that meant that he’s lost that spot to the player who was ranked behind him in last year’s edition of this survey.

Fitzpatrick narrowly beat Simmons in last year’s voting, but he was coming off two seasons of high-level ball production. Numbers don’t tell the whole story this year, but Fitzpatrick finished last season with two interceptions and eight passes defended — down from four and 11, respectively, in 2020.

In reality, though, Fitzpatrick doesn’t really need this to motivate himself to show up on the field every week. He’s been a consistent force for the defense of teams he’s played for in the NFL, including, of course, the Steelers, who acquired him in 2019 via a trade with the Miami Dolphins.

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The Steelers also made sure he would be among the chief anchors of their secondary in the foreseeable future when they inked him to a four-year contract extension with $73.6 million back in June. That means that Pittsburgh is going to be the beneficiary of most of Fitzpatrick’s remaining prime years. Fitzpatrick, who will be turning just 26 in November, has not missed a game in the last two seasons. In the 2021 NFL campaign, he finished with two interceptions, seven passes defended, and a career-high 124 combined tackles

The importance of Fitzpatrick to the Steelers’ defense can’t be understated, considering how great the offenses are in the AFC North, in particular. The Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens have some of the best quarterbacks not just in the division but in the entire NFL, so expect Fitzpatrick to be very busy downfield for Pittsburgh’s stop unit that allowed 223.8 passing yards per game in 2021.