Relatively speaking, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone some major changes this offseason, which included signing three outside free agency to starter-level contract. One of those players signed was inside linebacker Mark Barron, who may not get that chance to start because of the other major change the team made this offseason.
Which was to make a big trade up in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, giving up second- and third-round picks to move from 20th to 10th, allowing them to select Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush. Bush has been heavily rotating in with the first-team defense all spring and already calling the defense as he appears to be on-course to be a starter by the time the regular season begins.
Bush has been the most-discussed player related to the Steelers since the draft, which is a nice change from all the nonsense surrounding Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Ben Roethlisberger prior to that, most of which was nonsense and none of which was valuable in practically any conceivable way.
Considering the issues the Steelers had at the mack linebacker position last season, which primarily featured Jon Bostic (released after the draft) and then later L.J. Fort (signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency), it’s no surprise how much attention Bush, who was regarded as one of the top players in the draft, has gotten around the league.
Most recently, he was named as one of the 10 players that Pro Football Focus most expects to have an immediate impact on their new team in 2019, coming in at the eighth spot on the list. As Michael Renner wrote of him:
We all saw how valuable the inside linebacker position is in Pittsburgh’s scheme after Ryan Shazier was lost at the end of the 2017 season. They’re asked to cover a ton of ground in coverage while also being a key cog in blitz packages. No one on the Steelers’ roster could come close to replacing Shazier’s ability in both, but Bush has the traits to do so. His 85.4 pass-rushing grade and 87.7 coverage grade from last year along with 4.4s speed will fit in nicely.
While we haven’t seen him hands-on for ourselves yet, reports from OTAs and minicamp about how Bush has looked so far have been pretty much glowing with praise. I can’t recall the last time a rookie has been so universally talked-up this early on. Not even Shazier himself got this much attention, and he was immediately plugged in as the unchallenged starter from his first practice.
But in theory, he should have an enormous impact on this defense, and thus as the team as a whole. Not just him, but also Barron and the recruitment of Steven Nelson at cornerback have helped to shore up some of the weakest areas of the entire roster relative to last season. But Bush should prove to be the nucleus of that positive change, not just for 2019 but for the next decade or more.