Did the Pittsburgh Steelers get the best player in this year’s draft when they traded up to No. 10 overall to select former Michigan linebacker Devin Bush? We certainly know the real answer to that question for several years to come. It’s worth noting, however, that former NFL safety Louis Riddick, who is currently an analyst with ESPN, told Dan Patrick on his radio show prior to this year’s draft that he believes Bush should get early consideration as possibly being the best player in this year’s class.
“This is going to catch some people by surprise, the best player in this draft, some people will say Quinnen Williams and some people are gonna say Nick Bosa, I’ll tell you this, for my money, pound-for-pound, the best player in this draft is Devin Bush from Michigan, linebacker,” Riddick told Patrick last week. “If you can tell me exactly what his weakness is, I can show you play that tells you it’s not a weakness. I played with his father in Atlanta in 1996, or 1997, or 1995, one of those years. Anyway, his father was a safety from Florida State and the kid has all of his father’s tenacity, speed, striking ability. He has better football instincts. His football smarts are off the charts.”
After identifying Bush as potentially the best player in this year’s draft, Riddick was immediately asked by Patrick if the linebacker position is still important in the NFL.
“Great question,” Riddick said. “The game has changed, Dan, right? I mean, the game, as far as how people are attacking you on offense, it’s become critical to have great athletes and smart athletes in the middle of the field at linebacker and at safety. That’s why you’re seeing guys like Roquan Smith getting drafted as high as he got drafted by Chicago last year. That’s why Devin White’s going to go top 10 this year from LSU. That’s why Devin Bush is going to go top 10 from Michigan this year. You better be able to defend teams that can attack you with running backs and tight ends in the middle of the field where you’re not allowed to hit anybody.”
Riddick went on to say that teams around the league need to do their best to better combat what all the New England Patriots like to do, and have been able to do for some time now, offensively, when it comes to controlling the middle of the football field.
“It’s how New England has kind of made the rest of the league look silly,” Riddick said. “They started doing it years ago with Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] and [Aaron] Hernandez. They still do it now and now they just changed their philosophy a little bit as Gronk got older and they started doing it with running backs. Rex Burkhead, James White, the guys who are catching passes over and over again.”
Way ahead of this year’s draft, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert made it point to say that the organization failed poorly last season in their attempt to replace injured inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.
“No, we didn’t do enough [to replace Shazier] because we’re 9-6-1,” Colbert said at this year’s scouting combine. “We’re not going to hide from that.”
After trading up for Bush in the first-round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Colbert made sure to point out that the position he plays is a very important one in today’s NFL and why.
“This is a quality young man who’s really an excellent football player. As an inside linebacker, his game is really predicated on what is needed to play the position in modern day NFL football because he can not only play the run but he’s got exceptional cover abilities, and he can also rush the passer.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin essentially confirmed what Colbert said Thursday night about Bush and the tangibles he brings to Pittsburgh as an inside linebacker.
“That coverage ability, but I don’t want to underscore his blitzing capabilities, too,” Tomlin said. “I think that was as exciting to me as his coverage. I mean what I said, and I said he’s an exciting, all situations linebacker, and to have that type of athleticism in the second level of defense I think is critical in today’s NFL.”
Tomlin was then asked Thursday night if it’s true that an NFL defense id considered slow if it doesn’t have speed in the middle of the field at the inside linebacker position.
“I think that’s a fair statement,” Tomlin said. “I just believe by the virtue of their positioning, be that in the rush and in coverage, their ability to play what’s in front of them, and sideline-to-sideline, their speed is impactful probably on the larger percentage of plays than people who don’t play in the middle of the field at the second level of play.”
Obviously , Bush enters the NFL with a great deal of speed and agility as not only were those two traits identified by a stop watch during this year’s scouting combine, both were easy to spot during dis play at Michigan. In addition to Bush’s great athleticism, he’s perceived to be a very cerebral player as well and thus a potential future defensive signal-caller and captain on defense.
The knocks on Bush coming out of college are related to his overall size and his failure to register a large amount of defensive plays that show up on stat sheets. Those two perceived knocks aside, Bush checks all the other necessary boxes in regard to being a first-round draft pick this year. The fact that the Steelers traded up 10 spots in the first-round to select him speaks volumes as such a move up had only happened twice previously since Colbert arrived in Pittsburgh in 2000. Was Bush worth the Steelers trading up for him srt of the same way they did in 2004 when they moved up in the first-round of the 2003 NFL Draft to select
Roughly three years from now we all should have a good idea of just how good of player Bush is or isn’t at the NFL level. If he winds up indeed being one of the top three or four players to come out of this year’s draft class, it should have given the Steelers a great opportunity to win another championship or two before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calls it quits. Time, as they say, will tell, but it’s obvious that Riddick believes the Steelers got perhaps the best player in this year’s draft.