The Pittsburgh Steelers are still fighting to crack even the top half of the league in ESPN’s latest power rankings, which slotted the Steelers 22nd in the league, one spot down from the team’s location in previous rankings. These rankings didn’t offer much commentary about the team as a whole but each ESPN writer was asked to name one player on their team’s hot seat. For Pittsburgh, that man was Devin Bush. In explaining the selection, though it hardly needs one, Brooke Pryor wrote:
“In hiring Brian Flores and signing Myles Jack in free agency, the Steelers are giving Bush the tools to reach his potential, but he has to make the plays to solidify a starting job and his future in the NFL.”
Bush’s story and career arc is well-documented, and I’ll spare you the expense of recapping it again. Here’s the cliff notes version: top-ten pick, Ryan Shazier’s replacement, blows out knee, struggles coming back, is in a make-or-break season.
He has rotated with Robert Spillane throughout the summer and may hold him off long enough to officially start the season. But the team likely wouldn’t hesitate to turn towards Spillane if Bush doesn’t at least get better against the run, being more physical taking on and getting off blocks. Pittsburgh’s primary mission this year is to improve their 32nd-ranked run defense. While Bush perhaps hasn’t been quite as bad this summer as some have made him out to be, he’s done little to show he’ll be with the team beyond 2022. If it wasn’t for his first-round status and fully guaranteed salary, his odds at a roster spot, let alone a starting one, would greatly diminish.
Looking more broadly at the power rankings, the Steelers’ 22nd spot slots them fourth in the AFC North. A comfortable fourth at that, behind the Cincinnati Bengals (#5), Baltimore Ravens (#9), and even the Deshaun Watson-less Cleveland Browns (#17). The teams behind Pittsburgh are some names you don’t want to be closely associated with: the Seahawks, Bears, and Lions are all hot on Pittsburgh’s heels.
Of course, these rankings are meaningless and will quickly change once the season begins. Every year is unpredictable, and some team closer to the bottom – perhaps the Steelers – will fly into the top ten while some team on the podium will stumble and fall. The Buffalo Bills currently occupy the top spot in the league followed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl champs Los Angeles Rams at #3. The Atlanta Falcons round out the bottom of the list at #32, one spot behind the Houston Texans and two behind the New York Jets.