Minkah Fitzpatrick’s first season in the NFL got off to a bit of a slow start.
Once he got traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers early in his second season back in 2019, his career took off. Fitzpatrick quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s best playmakers at the position and was chosen as the top safety in the league by The Associated Press.
A panel of nine AP Pro Football Writers ranked the top five players at safety, making their selections based on current status entering the 2023 season. First-place votes were worth 10 points. Second through fifth-place votes were worth 5, 3, 2 and 1 points.
Fitzpatrick got five first-place votes, three seconds and one third to win the balloting. Derwin James was the only other player named on all nine ballots and got two first-place votes to come in second.
Justin Simmons and Kevin Byard each got one first-place vote and finished third and fourth, respectively. Budda Baker came in fifth.
Talanoa Hufanga, Micah Hyde, Antoine Winfield, Tyrann Mathieu and Harrison Smith also received votes.
1. MINKAH FITZPATRICK, Pittsburgh Steelers: Fitzpatrick has been a first-team All-Pro in three of the past four seasons. He has 17 interceptions and four fumble recoveries in 61 games for the Steelers after having three in 18 games with Miami. He is tied for the most takeaways for any safety in the NFL the past four seasons.
2. DERWIN JAMES, Los Angeles Chargers: James also entered the league as a first-round pick in 2018, six spots after Fitzpatrick, and offers great versatility in the secondary. He excels as a deep safety, in the box as an extra run supporter or in the slot covering shifty receivers. He has seven interceptions, 9 1/2 sacks and five forced fumbles in 50 games. The biggest knock against James has been health. He missed 11 games in 2019 and the entire 2020 season with injuries.
3. JUSTIN SIMMONS, Denver Broncos: Simmons is tied with Fitzpatrick with 22 takeaways the last four seasons and has consistently been one of the best deep safeties since entering the league in 2016. He’s been a second-team All-Pro three times and his three straight seasons with at least five INTs is tied for the longest streak in the past 20 seasons.
4. KEVIN BYARD, Tennessee Titans: Byard emerged as one of the top safeties when he led the league with eight INTs as a second-year player in 2017 and has maintained a high level ever since. He’s been an All-Pro twice and has nine INTs the last two seasons.
5. BUDDA BAKER, Arizona Cardinals: Baker was one of the rare bright spots for Arizona last season when he earned his fifth Pro Bowl berth in six seasons as a pro. Baker is a two-time All-Pro and was also picked as a second-teamer in 2021.