The Pittsburgh Steelers had a DPOY candidate in T.J. Watt last year, but fellow LB Devin Bush is a sleeper for the award in 2020.
The Steelers had a massive void at ILB after Ryan Shazier suffered his possible career-ending injury. After trying to fill the void with some lackluster options (looking at you Jon Bostic), the Steelers made an aggressive trade up in the 2013 NFL Draft – moving up ten spots to secure Devin Bush. While the young linebacker flashed promise last season, he had his fair share of rookie moments. All that said, Bush is a sneaky candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
While a projection like that is bold, looking at Bush’s game, it isn’t unthinkable. Bush is a modern-day LB, utilizing hyper athleticism to make big plays all around the field. Seemingly his biggest drawback is his size, as his 5’11 stature is on the shorter side for an LB. His rookie tape was impressive though, and he should be primed for a huge season next year.
Bush should be able to improve upon his rookie year for the Steelers
While there are a lot of pros to his game, easily the thing he does best is to create and recover turnovers. While some will chalk this up to pure luck (to an extent, they’re right), Bush also seems to have his nose around the football. In a defense that was advantageous as last year, simply being around the ball can lead to a large number of turnovers. Those are the type of numbers that jump off the page to voters.
Another unique aspect of his game was his willingness to sift through blocks. Typically, an athletic LB would be more likely to try and run around blocks instead of powering through them. This leads to bigger holes and easier running paths for offenses. While Bush had his struggles in this regard, he also showcased some impressive physicality as a run defender.
His biggest weakness in his rookie year was pass coverage, and even then, he flashed serious upside as a coverage LB. It isn’t uncommon for an LB to struggle most in coverage, but given Bush’s ball instincts, this may lead to some more interceptions if QB’s decide to throw against him. While he may be worse in coverage than Shazier was, he should be competent enough and may see additional turnovers because of it.
Why Devin Bush can become the DPOY in 2020
While Bush is primed for a good season, will it be DPOY worthy? Since 2000, only five off-ball LBs have had the honor of winning the award: Ray Lewis (twice), Derrick Brooks, Brian Urlacher, and most recently Luke Kuechly (in 2013). This doesn’t bode well for Bush, as there appears to be favoritism towards sack artists when it comes to this award. While that may bode well for Steelers T.J. Watt, it may leave Bush looking at a long road ahead.
Looking at an average of the stats those five LBs that have won in the past 20 years, Bush would need to end the season with around 140 combined tackles, 3 sacks, and 3-4 interceptions. All those numbers are easily attainable, especially if Bush is on the field close to 100 percent of the time (as he is being projected). While the total tackles may be hard to achieve, Bush should be able to hit, if not exceed, those sack totals given the Steelers affinity for rushing their ILBs. As highlighted above, Bush should be in line to see some serious takeaways too, so having 4 interceptions isn’t out of the question.
Earning this award takes more than stats though. Frankly, each of these defenders drove fear into opposing offenses and had to be planned for weekly. Bush will have to be more than just a stat compiler; he will have to be the best player on the defense week in and week out. Given his growth and likely expanded role this year, Bush may be able to take that step and truly lead the defense.
All of this to say, Steelers fans shouldn’t sleep on Bush as a DPOY candidate. While the road to such a feat isn’t easy, it is well within a player of Bush’s calibers grasp. While the Steelers may not need him to play at such a level, having another DPOY candidate on the defense could be enough to launch this team into a deep playoff run. All of this considered, don’t sleep on Bush and his DPOY odds.