Who will be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most improved player in 2021? NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund projects it to be inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Using her forward-looking data models, Frelund recently identified one player from each NFL team who she projects to see such an uptick in 2021 based on their performance trajectory and the scheme they’ll be playing in this season. For the Steelers, that projected player is Bush, who is now in his third season after missing most of his 2020 season with a serious knee injury.
Below is why Frelund believes Bush has a good chance to be the Steelers most improved player in 2021.
In his rookie season of 2019, Bush’s impact in coverage was almost immediate. Computer vision shows he was able to limit catches and yards after the catch at the fifth-best rate that year, and that he started entering this high level of production about two games in. (The average for off-ball linebackers drafted in the first three rounds since 2005 is about five games before they are consistent, and we can determine “who they are” with any statistical relevance.) Given the changes to the Steelers’ defense this offseason, it seems more will be asked of Bush in his return to the field after missing 11 games in 2020. And there are great indicators that he will be able to deliver.
That’s certainly encouraging analysis from Frelund, and it definitely would be great for the 2021 Steelers if her projection is correct. The Steelers sorely missed Bush on defense last season after he injured his knee in the team’s Week 6 game against the Cleveland Browns. The defensive unit especially really missed Bush in coverage, as the main players they played at the inside linebacker position last season in his absence, Robert Spillane, Vince Williams, and Avery Williamson, didn’t fare too well in that phase of the game.
The Steelers’ 2021 training camp got underway late last week, and Bush wasn’t required to start it off on the Active/PUP list, which is a good sign that he should be ready to play by Week 1 of the season, which is now 48 days away. By the sound of things, the Steelers are easing Bush into things during training camp this year, and it will be interesting to see how much, if any, he plays during the preseason.
With Bush being a defensive player, who would be the best candidate on offense to be the Steelers most improved player in 2021 on that side of the football? Wide receiver Chase Claypool? What about guard Kevin Dotson or tackle Chukwuma Okorafor? Dotson had a good rookie season in limited play, and he figures to make a huge second year jump in 2021. As for Okorafor, who played right tackle last season for the Steelers, he’s switching to left tackle in 2021 and that’s his more natural side based on his college career. The Steelers certainly need both Dotson and Okorafor to be improved in 2021 if the Steelers offense wants to have consistent success in 2021.