It’s been a long time since the Pittsburgh Steelers have last made a selection in the top 10 picks of a draft. The most recent occurrence of that was during Kevin Colbert’s first season with the organization in 2000 when they made wide receiver Plaxico Burress the eighth-overall selection. A strong selection, even if he left in free agency.
The last defensive player that they used a top-10 pick on was cornerback Rod Woodson back in 1987, and I would like to think that that worked out pretty well. He did end up in the Hall of Fame, after all, making the Pro Bowl 11 times and the All-Pro list eight times. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year in 1993.
But he was never named Defensive Rookie of the Year. In fact, he hardly played during his rookie season, generally limited to work as a return man. The Steelers have had a player earn that distinction three times before, most recently by Kendrell Bell in 2001. It was also previously earned by Jack Lambert in 1974 and Joe Greene in 1969.
Can Michigan linebacker Devin Bush be the fourth? According to Pro Football Focus, he has the sixth-best odds of rookie defensive players to win the award in 2019 based on their own evaluations.
“Inside linebacker is arguably the most valuable position in the Steelers’ defense”, Michael Renner writes in a ranking of the top 10 DPOY candidates. “They’re asked to cover a ton of ground and limit YAC to keep offenses behind the chains. Bush played as the hole player in Michigan’s man-heavy defense a lot in college, but he has exactly the sort of skillset to rack up a ton of stops in zone for the Steelers”.
In case you’re wondering, Bush was slotted three places behind Devin White of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the odds rankings. The top two on the board were also the two highest defensive players drafted, Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams. Number four was Brian Burns, and number five was Byron Murphy, the 33rd-overall pick.
The Steelers have had a lot of defensive players play early in recent years, but none have earned any distinctions. The closest was T.J. Watt in 2017 when he finished his rookie season with seven sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble.
But Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas in 2013, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt in 2014, Bud Dupree in 2015, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave in 2016, Watt in 2017, and Terrell Edmunds in 2018 have all been rookie defensive contributors for the Steelers over the course of the past six seasons. They might not all have been starters, but they all had established roles at some point during their rookie year.