By Jeremy Hritz
The Steelers just made headlines when they inked Minkah Fitzpatrick to a deal that made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL, and it was worth it. Since being traded to the Steelers, Fitzpatrick has been arguably their best splash creator, and last year he showed that he can be physical and serve as the last line of defense (literally) in stopping the runs that the defensive line and inside backers couldn’t take care of. He highlights the position and provides stability and optimism for the back end of the defense and what they can possibly accomplish in 2022. But outside of Fitzpatrick, how does the position look?
|Terrell Edmunds||34||S||6-1||217||25||5||Virginia Tech|
|Karl Joseph||38||S||5-10||200||28||6||West Virginia|
|Damontae Kazee||24||S||5-11||174||29||6||San Diego State|
|Miles Killebrew||28||S||6-2||222||29||7||Southern Utah State|
I’ve pontificated enough on the value of Fitzpatrick, but I would be remiss if I did not note that I would not be surprised if he has an All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year-type season. He is that caliber of player, and if everything is functioning cohesively in 2022, I would not count that out.
Starting alongside Fitzpatrick will be 5th year safety Terrell Edmunds, who re-signed with the Steelers for a paltry contract after his best year with the team. Edmunds is physical, and though he struggles at times in coverage, he may be on the cusp of becoming a solid player, not a great one. Last season, he recorded 89 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions, and garnered attention from Pittsburgh beat writers for taking a step in his play. Many thought this would have resulted in his firth-year option being picked up, but it wasn’t, and the Steelers (thankfully) were able to get him on the cheap. Edmunds is playing for a big contract, so look for him to put it all on the table in 2022.
Backing up Fitzpatrick will be newly signed Damontae Kazee, who has 12 career interceptions over 5 years. He will provide some rest for Fitzpatrick, and I would be surprised to not see him get a few reps each game to give Fitzpatrick a breather. For Edmunds, Karl Joseph returns to the team as the strong safety back up. The former first round selection played sparingly with the Steelers in 2021, but he has the experience to be a quality backup at the position if needed.
In reflecting on the position, the Steelers are actually pretty stable at safety with both Kazee and Joseph as the backups. In the event there is an injury, both players are capable enough to fill in effectively enough to ensure continuity on the defense.
The Backend of the Safety Position (Pun Intended)
Miles Kilebrew is listed on the roster as a safety, but he is a hybrid inside-backer/special teamer. He will not see many, if any, reps at the position, but can fill in if in dire need (let’s hope not). UDRFA from last season, Donovan Stiner, returns to the team to continue to show his development and find a role for himself on the team. Stiner had a nice preseason last year with a pick and some decent hits, so it will be interesting to see his growth from year one to year two. At minimum, I see him sticking on the practice squad, and at best, playing well enough to make Joseph expendable.
Some people may classify Tre Norwood as a safety, but he is a sub-package corner on the Steelers defense. In my cornerback review, I will discuss his status with the team.
A Sneaky Position of Strength
Many without knowledge of the organization may not know the quiet strength of the safety position, but it is there. I expect big things both from Fitzpatrick and Edmunds, and even if there is an injury, the depth is strong enough to overcome. And keep an eye on Stiner who may surprise people this training camp.