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Analysis

Ben Burr-Kirven is the Best LB Option for the Steelers not Named Devin

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You are going to hear at least once from now until the start of the 2019 NFL draft that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to add one of the two “Devins” who sits atop of the list of top linebackers available. The team did a poor job of replacing Ryan Shazier last offseason, and now they are forced into a make or break spot this offseason on the addition of one of these two elite prospects.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, as the days have gotten closer to the draft, the idea that Devin White or Devin Bush will drop to Pittsburgh has started to look less likely. Devin White has almost been guaranteed to be picked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at fifth overall, and if an unforeseen outcome did change that, White would not fall much further.

White going higher than anticipated only starts the totem pole effect, making it harder to imagine Devin Bush dropping another 15 spots to Pittsburgh. The Steelers can try to trade up for Bush, heck, they tried to trade up for a linebacker last season. Sometimes, it just does not work out.

With that in mind, the Steelers cannot take the same approach as last year.

After missing on their linebacker early, they felt unsure of the other options in the draft and opted to wait until after the draft to sign Matthew Thomas as a UDFA. Thomas will enter training camp with the Ravens this summer.

If the Steelers miss on Devin Bush in round one, they need to attack linebacker in the next round or so. And if the Steelers miss on Devin Bush, the player they need is Ben Burr-Kirven (BBK) from Washington.

While Devin Bush has elite upside, the one knock against him was that he did not stuff the stat sheet while in college. The Steelers, who lacked turnovers at every spot on defense last season need a playmaker in the middle of the field. Enter BBK.

As a senior, BBK had an unreal 176 tackles. More than that, he added 5.5 tackles for loss, two going for sacks. Burr-Kirven defended six passes, intercepted two, forced four fumbles and recovered three more. It is safe to say Ben Burr-Kirven was everywhere. He did this all while playing extremely efficient, posting a 91 grade by Pro Football Focus, with elite grades in coverage, an area where the Steelers lack the most.

BBK plays with an instinctive understanding and a motor that never runs cold. He is a player who can get to the sidelines, defend the run and make plays in the passing game.

The play below will make Steelers fans eyes light up. It is third down and two and BBK is playing off of the ball. However, he recognizes a run up the middle, fills the gap, and not only halts momentum but begins to drive the runner into the backfield further.

Again, note his diagnosing skills. Despite a lot of pulling and movement on the offensive line, BBK stays in his gap with his eyes on the ball. He reads the run, finds his hole and wraps up.

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Still, the Steelers have Vince Williams and Jon Bostic for downhill, physical run defense. What they need is the speed over the middle of the field that they lost from Ryan Shazier. In the slot near the right hash, you can see BBK lineup with a tight end in the slot, and follow him up the seam. Watch him deny the middle of the field, slide with his man and then turn his hips to maintain speed without losing his man.

BBK is also instinctive in coverage. Watch the bottom tweet first of the two below. He reads the quarterback the entire time. The quarterback looks left and BBK shuffles one step to give him the impression he is baited into a read. When the quarterback thinks he got BBK to shuffle left, he looks right over the middle of the field. However, BBK knew that, and moved with the quarterback to pick the pass off with room to run. This not only shows awareness but a change of direction, burst and ball skills.

The top tweet is an encapsulation of everything he brings to the table. Watch him fluidly change directions as he reads the play. He helps defend the route over the middle by the wide receiver before crashing hard on the drag route check-down option. He effectively shut down two passing options and made a great stick after the fact to contain his man to nothing at all after the catch. One of the few negatives against BBK is that he is credited for allowing completions, but often they are plays like the one highlighted here. We will take those completions.

Of course, his game is not complete, and if it were, he would be in the Devin Bush range as a prospect. Instead, the Steelers may be able to find a player such as Burr-Kirven in round three, if not later.

That mainly comes down to his size. Ben Burr-Kirven is a bit undersized by NFL standards but did show up to the NFL combine, at 6′ in height, and 230 pounds in weight-two thresholds that improve his chances in the NFL.

Unfortunately, his biggest question is going to come from his reach and arm length. As shown in his athletic testing, he does not have long arms. Washington played with a strong defensive line, and BBK was given the chance to roam free because of it. Will he get eaten by second-level blocks that he did not see in the NFL?

Many Steelers fans are going to see the size, the production and a white athlete and immediately draw comparisons to Tyler Matakevich. However, as you can see from his athletic testing, BBK is nearly an elite athlete at his size.

His speed in the 40 stands out, but his 3-cone and short shuttle speak to elite change of direction and short area quickness skills needed to hang with slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs in coverage.

In fact, when you compare Ben Burr-Kirven to Tyler Matakevich athletically, you do not even have a player in the same ballpark. The upside of BBK is significantly higher.

The upside of BBK is a player who can get on the field next season. His size issues are always going to be there, but his combination of smarts and athleticism can help him deal with it. The NFL is shifting to a smaller league as well, as Ryan Shazier now looks averagely sized for a linebacker at 237 pounds. Burr-Kirven being undersized is not nearly the issue it would have been 10 years ago.

If the Steelers can add Devin Bush in the first round, it comes off as a no-brainer. However, if they are unable to pull it off, Steelers fans should not fear. Ben Burr-Kirven worked out for the Steelers recently, and he should be sitting at the top of the Steelers list of backup plans when it comes to drafting a linebacker in 2019.

Steelers Now analyst. IUP Alum. Pittsburgh native. Steelers and Pirates critic, Penguins homer. Covers NFL. Follows NFL, NCAAB, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Writes about the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, and other relevant NFL news.

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