Why Steelers GM Kevin Colbert traded up for Devin Bush

The Steelers traded up for a player they knew was the perfect fit, and it took no consideration for this team to make a move.

The Pittsburgh Steelers remained relatively quiet during this year’s free-agency period. A team that witnessed two of their best offensive players leave for AFC rivals. One would think that’s where their focus would be. Quickly replenishing All-Pro talent on the offensive side of the ball.

However, when evaluating their roster, it’s the defense that needed reinforcement.

Games are won down in the trenches and championships are won by assembling a stingy defense. Plain and simple. Luckily for the Steelers, they have a strong foundation of building blocks to work with for the foreseeable future.

From fourth-year NT Javon Hargrave to third-year OLB T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh already has some key players that will help them turn the corner.

Mix those young talented players with seasoned veterans like one-time All-Pro DE Cameron Hayward and six-year DE Stephon Tuitt, and you instantly have one of the best front seven’s in the NFL. But like all great defenses, they all had one thing in common–a dynamic, explosive, inside linebacker.

However, once the Steelers traded away disgruntled All-Pro WR Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders, they immediately endured a cap hit of $21.12 million of Brown’s prorated signing bonus. This instantly placed a huge financial strain on the team, which in turn, directly impacted their ability to sign highly prized free-agents, like ILB C.J. Mosley.

So with the Steelers closely monitoring their financial spreadsheets, where did they go from there? While landing Mosley was out of the picture, they used draft capital to trade up for the second best inside linebacker. Enter Devin Bush.

The Steelers acquired the Denver Broncos first-round pick (No. 10). In exchange for the 10th selection, Denver received Pittsburgh’s 2019 first-and second-round picks (Nos. 20 and 52) and a 2020 third-round pick.

At the NFL combine, Bush blew away NFL scouts with off the chart measurables. At 5-11, 234, Bush ran a blazing 4.43 40-yard dash, recorded 21 reps of 225 pounds, defied gravity with a 40.5-inch vertical, and displayed methodical fluidness in positional drills. To put those numbers in perspective, five-time first-team All Pro ILB Patrick Willis ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, recorded 22 reps of 225 pounds, and had a 39-inch vertical, while four-time first-team All-Pro ILB Bobby Wagner ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, recorded 24 reps of 225 pounds, and had a 39.5-inch vertical.

Measurables that closely mirror each other, it’s no wonder the Steelers scouting department had a conviction about the 2018 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year early on in the scouting process.

“Young man we’ve had our eye on for a while now. Maybe the worst kept secret in the draft on who we might try to take this year, so glad that we were able to do it,” said Art Rooney II.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert echoed the owner’s statement saying, “Really we identified Devin even going into last year, when we watched him as an underclassmen. We scouted him extensively. We had four people go in during the Fall myself included. We saw him play live games. We visited with him at the combine. We visited with him the night before his pro day. Of course attended his pro day. And again this is a quality young man,” Colbert said.

With LSU ILB Devin White being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the fifth selection, that created a sense of urgency for Pittsburgh to make a move, as I tweeted:

Last year, saw the Chicago Bears draft ILB Roquan Smith at No. 8 and while inside linebackers are rarely drafted inside the top ten, I fully expected White to go even higher, based on draft order, leaving me to believe, Bush would also be in consideration inside top 10.

Since 2000, only five inside linebackers were drafted in the top ten, those players include MLB Brian Urlacher, ILB Jerod Mayo, ILB Rolando McClain, MLB Luke Kuechly, and Smith. Three of them took the NFL by storm during their rookie campaigns, winning Defensive Rookie of the year honors. Expect White to be added to that short list, as I believe his game is polished enough to be the next great rookie linebacker.

Unlike Smith, who was drafted by the Bears with the No. 8 overall selection, Bush is able to take on blocks at the point of attack, due to his exceptional upper-body strength. This allows Bush to easily shed blocks while making consistent plays at or near the line of scrimmage. However, no skill-set is more important at the linebacker position than pure instincts.

A very instinctive linebacker can sniff-out plays before they happen or as they develop. Bush has the innate ability to do just that. Often flowing to the ball naturally due to his sideline-to-sideline range, Bush as the knack for being around the football on almost every play.

Aside from establishing strong run fits, Bush also doubles up as the modern day inside linebacker able to play in space.

“He’s really an excellent football player. As an inside linebacker, his game is really predicated on what is needed to play the position in modern NFL day football. Because he can not only play the run. But he’s got exceptional coverage abilities, and he can also rush the passer,” Colbert said during the team’s presser. And I couldn’t agree more.

Next: Devin Bush was the perfect pick

While conventional wisdom would tell us inside linebackers are unworthy of top 10 picks, Bush’s value proved too good to pass up. In what I would call a perfect storm, where need meets BPA (Best Player Available), the Steelers struck gold. All while finding the heart and soul of their defense moving forward.

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