For the first time in the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers made a trade in the first round of the draft. Pittsburgh sent their first round pick (#20), second round pick (#52) and 2020 third round pick to Denver to move up to the 10th overall pick. With that selection, the Steelers drafted linebacker Devin Bush from Michigan. This was an electrifying selection that provided a statement of the Steelers willingness to stay in win-now mode. Immediately after the pick, the SCB crew recorded a quick podcast with real-time reactions. Additionally, this was the first time the Steelers made a pick in the Top 10 of the Draft since 2000, the longest streak in the league without a Top 10 pick.
The last time the #Steelers traded up to take a defensive player in Round 1: Troy Polamalu in 2003
The last time the #Steelers took a defensive player in the Top 10:
Rod Woodson in 1987
— Ryan Recker (@RyanRecker) April 26, 2019
What Bush Brings
Check out the SCB Prospect Profile for a detailed breakdown on what Devin Bush brings to Pittsburgh.
Inside linebacker was the Steelers’ biggest need and Bush is a sideline-to-sideline player with elite athleticism. Bush attacks the football downhill and gives the Steelers coverage abilities from the linebackers spot they have been missing since Ryan Shazier’s injury. Bush is slightly undersized at 229 pounds but his tape (see below) is filled with highlights of him flying all over the field. His athleticism shows up in blitz packages where he blows through the line and in both run and pass defense.
2017 Stats: 102 tackles, 10 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 8 PBUs, 1 INT
2018 Stats: 80 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 6 PBUs
Career Stats: 194 tackles, 20 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, 14 PBUs
In his post-draft interview, Kevin Colbert said the Steelers prioritized having two picks on the second day of the Draft. With the extra third round pick from the Antonio Brown trade, the Steelers were able to trade away their 2nd round pick (#52) and still have two third rounders (#66 and #83). Additionally, the Steelers have shown a willingness to trade future picks in rounds where they are confident they will receive a compensatory pick. Based on Over The Cap’s Comp Pick Analysis, the Steelers are currently in line for a 3rd round comp pick in 2020 due to Le’Veon Bell’s contract with the Jets. In a sense, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown leaving Pittsburgh enabled the Steelers to make this aggressive move up to draft Devin Bush.
Bush Matches Steelers Draft Tendencies
During the pre-draft process, we identified four tendencies of Kevin Colbert draft picks.
- Power Conference Players
Coming from Michigan, Devin Bush matches the trend of picking power conference players in the first round. The only time Colbert has not gone this route was with Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Additionally, Bush is yet another player from the Big Ten, where the plurality of Colbert’s draft picks have come from.
- Ranked Schools
The Steelers like players that are winners. They like players that come from winning schools. Michigan finished 14th in the Final AP Top 25 Poll last year. With Bush’s selection, 16 of Colbert’s 20 first round picks have come from schools that finished ranked in the final AP poll.
- Youth Movement
The Steelers have shown a distinct preference for players younger than 23 years old in the early rounds of the draft. Devin Bush left Michigan after his true junior season and is currently 20 years old. Bush will turn 21 this summer before the season starts. He is the first 20-year old taken in the first round by the Steelers. This is the 16th of Colbert’s 20 first round picks that were 22 years old or younger.
Since 2014, the Steelers have focused on highly-athletic players in the first round. SPARQ, a measure of athleticism where 100-115 is the NFL average, rated Devin Bush at 142.9 (the highest of any inside linebacker). Over the last 5 years the average SPARQ score of Pittsburgh’s first round picks was 138.6. However, only Artie Burns’ SPARQ actually fell below that average, signalling it as a clear outlier. If Burns’ score is removed, the average of the remaining players is an incredible 145.4. Bush fits right in line with this trend of elite athletes.