The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that preaches patience with their rookies. They are not a team to push them into the lineup if they are not ready. However, they are also a team that does not trade up into the top ten for game changing players.
The Steelers trade up for Devin Bush is the first defensive trade up since Troy Polamalu, who did not start a single game for the Steelers in his rookie season. Still, that was a different NFL. The Steelers need to replace Ryan Shazier was apparent in their playoff loss to the Jaguars at the end of the 2017 season and the hole got deeper the following year.
But before the draft, and before the Steelers moved up 10 spots, general manager Kevin Colbert didn’t feel that it was an absolute necessity that his first-round pick be an instant starter.
“The people we draft, the longer we can keep them off the field the better for them historically,” Colbert said. “You really want to go in with these players and delay them getting on the field as long as you can because over time I think coach would get comfortable with what they can do but to have them have to step out and play, more often than not I think it is more detrimental to the player and if he loses his confidence early it’s usually not returnable.”
WILL BUSH START WEEK ONE?
History says that he should. Since 2000, eight inside linebackers have been taken in the top ten spots: Brian Urlacher, Luke Kuechly, A.J. Hawk, Jerod Mayo, LaVar Arrington, Ernie Sims, Rolando McClain, and Roquan Smith.
Of that group, the lowest number of starts was Arrington, who started 11 games back in 2000. Today’s NFL is designed for rookies to get on the NFL field even sooner. And Kuechly, Hawk, Mayo, and Sims started all 16 games of their rookie seasons.
Smith was drafted eighth overall just last season. He held out and barely participated in training camp before starting 14 games, compiling 121 tackles, one interception, five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Smith was taken two picks higher, but was held in similar regard as a prospect, and did not need to be acquired via trade up. Considering the hold out, it is completely fair to expect Bush to start 16 as long as he is healthy and in camp.
“I think he will help us at some point, but it’ll be when he’s ready and not necessarily forcing him into a situation,” Colbert said after the draft. “He was a great player on a really good college defense. Michigan’s defense was as good as any we saw in college football last year. That ability to transfer over, it’s still going to be an NFL game that he has to transfer into, so the longer you can delay, the better it is for the kid. And like Coach mentioned, he can help on special teams right now. And where he plays schematically, I’m sure (head coach Mike) Tomlin and (defensive coordinator Keith) Butler and (inside linebackers coach Jerry) Olsavsky will figure that out in time. But I think that Devin will push the process, but it will be up to the coaches when he’s ready.
WILL BUSH CALL PLAYS?
It is worth noting that Smith did not call plays for the Bears on defense, though. Danny Trevathan was the play-calling linebacker, which allowed Smith to be more reactive.
Smith was held back by holding out, so can Bush call plays as a rookie? He called the plays for the Michigan defense a year ago, and he will likely still start, but he may be chasing Vince Williams next season.
One thing the Bears did to get Smith acclimated was let him call plays with the second team in the preseason, so that he would not disrupt the rhythm of Trevathan. Do not be surprised if Bush spends the summer running the second-team as a play caller before being promoted to a starter by Week One.
COULD BUSH WIN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
Even if Bush does not call the plays, Jon Bostic saw the field 53.6% of the snaps, and L.J. Fort played 29.2 of the time. That is 865 defensive snaps or 82.8% of the defensive plays.
Roquan Smith played 880 snaps, 83.6%. This is right in line with what we should expect Bush to do. While Smith did not win the Rookie of the Year, he was certainly in consideration.
Any linebacker who plays that often is going to be in consideration. Linebacker is the position that compiles the most stats, and stats are what voters look for. In fact, Smith only lost the Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and linebacker Darius Leonard, who won the award.
In the past 18 years, nine linebackers have won the award, including Kuechly, Mayo and Urlacher, former top ten picks.
Bush will have Devin White to compete with but the two are the clear-cut front runners for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Bush should be in line to start every game, and 100 tackles with a sack or two, a pick or two and a couple of tackles for loss should be expected based on past top ten picks at linebacker. If Bush is calling plays by the end of the season, he is even farther ahead of schedule than his peers, and will be on a path to longterm success in the NFL.
Packers Could Pass Steelers in All-Time Playoff Wins in NFC Championship Game
The Green Bay Packers can pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL record books with a win in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Packers and Steelers are currently tied with 36 all-time NFL playoff wins, the second-most behind the New England Patriots, who have 37.
The Packers will be playing the man responsible for most of those wins in New England, now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.
Both the Packers and Patriots have a higher postseason winning percentage than the Steelers, with New England holding a 37-21 record and Green Bay 36-23, while Pittsburgh is 26-26 after a Wild Card Round loss to Cleveland this month.
None of the other top five teams, including Dallas (35-28) and San Francisco (32-30) are still alive this year. Tampa Bay has just eight playoff wins in its history, the sixth-fewest in league history.
The Buffalo Bills (16-17) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-19) are 19th and 20th in playoff wins entering their AFC Championship Game showdown on Saturday.
Mike Tomlin: Hall of Fame Class of 2021 Incomplete without Steelers Scout Bill Nunn
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t get a vote when it comes to who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he made his opinions known on who he thinks should be a part of the Hall’s Class of 2021, making a public plea on Monday for former Steelers scout Bill Nunn to be included.
“There is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it,” Tomlin wrote.
Nunn, who died in 2014, was selected as the lone finalist recommended by the nine-member contributor committee in August. He, senior committee finalist Drew Pearson, coaches committee finalist Tom Flores and 15 modern-era finalists, including former Steelers guard Alan Faneca, will all be on the ballot when the voters meet before the Super Bowl.
Nunn, a Homewood native and Westinghouse alum, was a key figure in the Steelers’ success in the 1970s and helped revolutionize the scouting process for players at historically black colleges and universities, that had been previously underrepresented in the NFL after having worked as a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Courier.
“Bill’s contributions to the Steelers were extraordinary over the 46 years he was part of the organization,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a press release in August. “He was a special person that was a close friend and mentor before his passing in 2014. His lessons and stories are still evident in our everyday work.
“I look forward to hopefully celebrating his induction next year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His legacy and career deserve to be recognized with the greatest individual honor in football, and we are excited he was chosen by the contributor committee as a finalist.”
Tomlin also wished luck to three players that he coached: former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backs Ronde Barber and John Lynch and Faneca.
Want to wish the absolute best of luck to three deserving @ProFootballHOF finalists, Ronde Barber, Alan Faneca and John Lynch, all who I have had the honor to work with.
And there is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it.
— Mike Tomlin (@CoachTomlin) January 18, 2021
Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt Named to PFWA All-NFL Team
For the second season in a row, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and outside linebacker T.J. Watt have been named to the Pro Football Writers of American All-AFC and All-NFL teams for the second consecutive season.
Fitzpatrick was also named an Associated Press All-Pro this season for the second straight year. In 2020, Fitzpatrick had 79 total tackles, eleven passes defended and a team-high four interceptions, one of which he returned for a 37-yard touchdown.
The other All-NFL and All-AFC safety was Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Watt was also named a first-team AP All-Pro after leading the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits. His 15 sacks were one off a franchise record and he racked them up while playing in only 15 games.
Watt was named the FOX Sports NFL Defensive Player of the Year and remains the favorite to win the prestigious AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at the postseason NFL Honors banquet.
Watt was also named the Steelers’ team MVP for the second straight season after finishing with 53 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 41 quarterbacks hits, two forced fumbles and an interception this season.
The other All-NFL outside linebacker was Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, while Bradley Chubb of the Cleveland Browns was the other All-AFC outside linebacker.
Both players were also selected to the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl team. The Pro Bowl will not be played. Instead, the Pro Bowl events will be led virtually and the game will be streamed via Madden NFL 21.
Only the Steelers and Los Angeles Rams had two All-NFL players on defense, tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Green Bay Packers had the most players selected with three, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tackle David Bakhitiari and wide receiver Davante Adams.
Full All-NFL team:
2020 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
RB – Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings; Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans*
WR – Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers; Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
C – Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
G – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts#
T – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers; Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns
DE – Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Trey Hendrickson, New Orleans Saints
DT – DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams^
OLB – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers*
MLB – Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
CB – Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins; Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
S – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens#
P – Jake Bailey, New England Patriots
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago Bears*
PR – Gunner Olszewski, New England Patriots
ST – George Odum, Indianapolis Colts