Pro Football Network’s Senior NFL Analyst Matt Williamson is high on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, ranking Devin Bush No. 19 on his list of the top 25 linebackers in the NFL. Bush is the third member of the Steelers defense to be ranked top 25 at his position, joining Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt, whom of which rank in the top three of their respective positions.
While a spot in the top 25 is high praise for a player fresh off their rookie season, there is plenty of evidence to support the case of the former 10th overall pick.
Devin Bush has a nose for the ball
Bush became the first Steelers rookie to lead the team in tackles since the stat began to be tracked in 1994. Wherever the ball went, the rookie out of Michigan was nearly always there. His ability to read the play and react so quickly is a trait that the Steelers have been lacking on the inside since the loss of Ryan Shazier. His ability to make an impact at the line of scrimmage is one of his greatest strengths, being able to read where the ball is going and break to the ball carrier to disrupt the play.
While Vince Williams has proven himself as a valuable commodity for the unit, guys like Jon Bostic and Sean Spence were clearly not suited for starting roles, nor were they able to do the things Bush does. Pittsburgh has threats off the edge in Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, and the aforementioned Watt; now they have a guy in the middle that makes their front seven dangerous in all facets.
Ability to disrupt plays
As a rookie, Bush finished the year tied for the league lead in fumble recoveries (4). By doing this, there were multiple times in which he changed the course of a game. For the best example of this, look no further than Pittsburgh’s Week 6 game on Sunday Night Football against the Los Angeles Chargers.
On a quick swing pass to running back Melvin Gordon, the Steelers brought pressure which forced a quick throw that went backward. While Vince Williams and Tyson Alualu stayed put, Bush showed no hesitation, scooped the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. Moments later, he intercepted a batted ball; two takeaways in two possessions.
His loan forced fumble on the year came against the Cincinnati Bengals after a deep reception by Tyler Boyd. Following the pass dropping in the arms of the Bengals receiver, Bush punched the ball out of the hands of Boyd which led to a recovery by Minkah Fitzpatrick at the Steelers’ own six yard-line. The Steelers were only up three at the time and only ended up winning by six. If the Bengals score on that possession, Cincinnati may have gotten their first win of the season against Pittsburgh.
Bush was also one of three Steelers to intercept Lamar Jackson in Pittsburgh’s Week 4 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens when he stole the ball out of the hands of Nick Boyle as both players were falling to the ground.
What will the Steelers defense look like in 2020?
Pittsburgh comes into 2020 as arguably the best defensive unit in the NFL. While guys like Watt or Fitzpatrick may get the majority of the spotlight, Pittsburgh wouldn’t be in this spot without their young middle linebacker. And while we are on the topic of youth, that may well be the biggest thing that not only works in the favor of Bush but the entire defense as a whole.
While they have veteran leadership in the form of Joe Haden and Heyward, the vast majority of their main defensive contributors have yet to reach their peak. Watt is 25; Fitzpatrick is 23; Devin Bush is 22. While everything Pittsburgh put together last year was incredible, they may be even better moving forward. This new age Steel Curtain is just getting started, and No.55 is going to be in the midst of that for years to come.