Silly me. About a week or so ago I wrote about a list that Pro Football Focus produced in which they named some of the second-year players whom they believe are potentially primed for a breakout season. In my haste to note that Diontae Johnson for the Pittsburgh Steelers was on the list—at the top, in fact—I completely missed the fact that Devin Bush was also included.
As the 10th-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, it shouldn’t be a great surprise that he would be seen as a potential breakout player in his second season, though, as Sam Monson even notes himself, some might dispute that he had already had his breakout season as a rookie.
Finishing the year leading the AFC in fan Pro Bowl voting (though he ultimately was not voted into the Pro Bowl), Bush was the first rookie in team history to topo 100 tackles. He also intercepted two passes, forced a fumble, and recovered four others. He returned one of those fumble recoveries for a touchdown.
Again, depending on how you measure these things, you may believe Devin Bush has already hit the ground running in the NFL. He led all rookie linebackers with 84 solo tackles and 22 assists (by PFF’s more accurate, double-checked count), but his overall grade was just 62.9. This is in large part due to the onerous responsibilities the Steelers place on their linebackers, which can expose them to consistently tough situations. Bush acclimated well in his first year, and so well, in fact, that with a full year in the system, he could kick on and look like one of the best in the league in 2020. Bush surrendered five touchdowns in coverage, two more than any other rookie linebacker, and was also penalized twice as much as any other first-year linebacker. But the plays he did make suggest he could develop into something special, maybe as soon as Year 2.
Truth be told, I don’t feel that’s a wholly inaccurate accounting of his rookie season, though I couldn’t care less about the number grade. It’s true that he had his struggles adapting to his responsibilities while the Steelers played in zone coverage, and he did get penalized. The tape shows that.
But it also shows just an absolute ton of promise, and I frankly have a hard time envisioning him not becoming a Pro Bowl-type player, perhaps sooner than later. I fully expect him to be about everything they thought he would be when he was drafted, a defensive nucleus who will set his teammates and just consistently make plays—including plays nobody else on the roster would be able to make.
That’s what they traded up for. That’s what they should be getting this year.