The Pittsburgh Steelers really seemed to be building toward something that has the potential to be special during the middle part of the 2019 season. While they took a backslide late in the year and ended up with an 8-8 record, they had put themselves in a position to make a run at a playoff spot, with arguably the worst quarterback play in the NFL.
So much of that was predicated upon the sudden rise of a defense that had been reloading for seemingly a decade. All the fruits of that labor appear to have finally ripened, and are ready to be harvested in 2020.
And to continue to torture the metaphor, the freshest of that produce is Devin Bush, who was the team’s 2019 first-round draft pick, an inside linebacker out of Michigan. The Steelers made the bold move of trading up from 20th to 10th in order to get him, making him the highest draft selection the team has made since Plaxico Burress in 2000.
Bush was essentially a 16-game starter as a rookie, even if he technically started 15, finishing among the runners-up to make the Pro Bowl. He set a club rookie record with 109 tackles, the first rookie to post 100 or more tackles in team history. He also recorded two interceptions, a forced fumble, and for fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Add nine tackles for loss, a sack, and four passes defensed, and you round out his stat sheet.
And he did that as a 21-year-old rookie, coming in as a true junior underclassman. He just turned 22 literally a week and a half ago. There’s a reason that a ton of people are excited to see where he goes from here, building upon his rookie season.
Bucky Brooks, an analyst for the NFL Network, recently included him on a list of the top 10 second-year players entering the 2020 season, placing him fifth behind quarterback Kyler Murray, edge rusher Nick Bosa, edge rusher Josh Allen, and wide receiver A.J. Brown. Looking at the list, I think that’s a pretty appropriate placement for him. In case you’re wondering, Brooks didn’t include Devin White in his top 10.
“The Steelers’ ‘backer gobbles up runners like Pac-Man devours dots”, he wrote. “He made his biggest contributions as a turnover machine. The Michigan product produced six takeaways (two interceptions and four fumble recoveries, including an astute scoop-and-score) while displaying outstanding instincts, ball skills and aggressiveness. Bush’s immediate impact helped fuel the Steelers’ top-five defense and established No. 55 as a rising star at linebacker”.
Bush is just one piece in a resurgent group, however, which also includes recent additions of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Steven Nelson. Outside of Javon Hargrave, they haven’t lost any prominent players from last season, short of Mark Barron. But the second-year inside linebacker will be one of the most important, perhaps for the next decade to come or more.