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What does Devin Bush still have to offer?

As he hits free agency, does Devin Bush have much to offer any team looking for his services?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 offseason is underway. As the team looks at it’s potentially departing players due to impending free agency, some players may be returning while others will test the market. To get a better idea as to how the Steelers might be looking, we’re going to dive into several of the free agents starting with ones who played the most in 2022. Next up will be Devin Bush. This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

Before getting into other statistics, I would have to say the main number when it comes to Devin Bush is 0%. That is what I believe the possibility of him coming back to the Steelers in 2023 is approaching. Both the organization and the player seem to not really have any desire left for the other so it would be in both of their best interests to move forward. Still, breaking down Bush’s performance can help identify what the Steelers need at the inside linebacker position.

Devin Bush played in all 17 games this season with 14 starts which was the same number of starts he had in 2021. Bush had 81 tackles, two of which were for loss, and two quarterback hits with zero sacks. Bush did had two passes defensed this season, but it was his career low as he had four each in 2019 and 2021 and still had three in only five games in his injury-shortened season of 2022. The 2022 season was also the first in which Bush did not register a sack.

What I think may be a very interesting statistic because of how troubling it is is the fact that, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR), Devin Bush did not have any forced fumbles in his NFL career to date. While he has five fumble recoveries, four of which were from his rookie season, Bush has not been a player who has taken the ball away. After two interceptions and four fumble recoveries as a rookie, he had one fumble recovery in 2021 and no interceptions over the last three seasons.

When it comes to some of the advanced statistics from PFR, Devin Bush gave up his highest completion percentage in pass coverage of his career in 2022. Giving up 28 completions on 38 targets for a 73.7% completion percentage, Bush had a 70.2% completion percentage in 2021 after having a 63.6% in 2020 and 67.6% in 2019. Although the completion percentage was up, Bush was only credited with giving up one receiving touchdown this season which was tied for his lowest in 2020 when he only played five games. Bush surrendered two touchdowns in 2021 and five in his rookie season but on a much higher number of targets with 68.

Even though Bush did not have a sack in 2022, it wasn’t for lack of opportunity as he was credited with blitzing 31 times this season which was only two less than 2021. The one place where Bush really thrived according to PFR in 2022 was when it came to missed tackles as he was only credited with one for the entire season.

What are the most telling numbers when it came to Devin Bush and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 is that out of his 659 snaps played on the season, the last two games saw only 10 total with five coming in each contest.

There are some of the numbers when it comes to Devin Bush’s production in 2022. How does the film look?

The Film Line:

Looking at Devin Bush it is important to set aside the expectations, the trade capital, all of that. That contract is done. Where the Steelers drafted him isn’t relevant to his career anymore. That’s a good thing— players should be judged by their performance, not what someone thought they could be three years ago. This is a breakdown of a free agent and what value he brings to an NFL team. With that in mind, let’s dig in.

Steelers @ Browns, 1st quarter, 15:00

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker closest to the middle of the field.

This is a solid rep from Bush. He engages an offensive lineman and holds the line. Bush struggles dealing with offensive lineman most of the time. This time he catches a lineman not squared up and does a good job fighting with him.

Steelers @ Browns, 2nd quarter, 9:44

Devin Bush (#55) is lined up on the hashmarks to the top of the screen.

Compare to this play when Donovan Peoples-Jones initiates contact with Bush and keeps him out of the play. Notice the down and distance markers— this is third down and Bush is lined up on the line to gain and the play comes right at him. It’s one thing when Bush loses to a much bigger player, but Peoples-Jones, who is a good blocker in his own right, is listed about 30 lbs. lighter than Bush.

The big difference here is Bush is waiting and is engaged, whereas the first clip Bush is the initiator of contact.

Steelers @ Browns, 2nd quarter, 3:21

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker on the hash marks to the bottom of the field.

David Njoku is a big tight end with long arms. That reach let’s Njoku win first contact and Bush gets his missed tackle for the season. Also notice Bush runs down the play to get in on the actual tackle.

Bush played 62% of snaps for the Steelers, and ended up third in tackles. He achieved that number by recording a high percentage of tackle assists. As I’ve said a good number of times, the difference between a missed tackle and an assisted tackle is how well your teammates swarm to the ball. Bush is much better at helping finish a play than he is making a solo tackle.

Steelers vs. Panthers, 2nd quarter, 7:40

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker to the left side of the screen.

This is a great example of a good run defense rep from Devin Bush. He reads the play quickly enough, no blockers reach him, and when the back cuts, he has the agility to get in on and help with a group tackle.

Steelers vs. Jets, 3rd quarter, 15:00

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker on the hash marks to the bottom of the field.

Bush does a great job here as well. He is blitzing and is able to downshift and change his momentum to wrap up the runner. Devin Bush is good at these leg tackles, and not quite as good in head on collision tackles. I think that also accounts for a good bit of his hesitation in many run defense clips. When he’s in a run lane facing a head-on collision, he waits for contact, while when he’s running to a player's side or behind them, he reacts quicker and aggressively goes to the ball. That’s not a career wrecking trait in a cornerback, but it’s a very bad one for an inside linebacker.

Steelers vs. Colts, 3rd quarter, 6:55

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker closest to the middle of the field.

Pass coverage was Bush’s strength in his first two seasons— he had speed and ball skills to handle man coverage on better receiving backs and tight ends. In 2022 the Steelers didn’t use him much in man, and you can see on any of these clips that Bush isn’t as quick as he used to be. On this play Bush hits his target, but the bigger tight end shrugs off the hit and Bush is fortunate to have teammates to help him bring down his man.

Steelers vs. Colts, 3rd quarter, 6:17

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker closest to the middle of the field.

Devin Bush is a bit slow picking up the crosser but is able to get a hand in and breaks up the play. Bush still has really good ball skills, but his strength in coverage was his speed to the ball, and with that diminished, he doesn’t have the read-and-react to make up for it very often.

Steelers vs. Jets, 2nd quarter, 3:58

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker closer to the bottom of the screen.

One thing Bush improved on in 2022 was his timing and effectiveness in these add-on blitzes. Bush doesn’t get a sack or deflect the ball, but he does a good job committing to the rush and disrupting the quarterback’s throw.

The Point:

Devin Bush was a smaller linebacker who made up for it with quickness. He excelled in running down outside runs, staying with receivers in man coverage, and in getting to the ball when in zone.

With his decreased speed he’s now a linebacker who isn’t quick enough to react, isn’t a plus player in man coverage, and isn’t going to make plays in zone. His weaknesses in the size and physicality aspects of the game didn’t matter as much when he had those strengths to offset it and keep him out of the more physical roles on defense. But now he’s not running with tight ends or dropping into deeper coverage, and when you are up near the line of scrimmage you need to do a much better job of attacking blockers and ball carriers.

Devin Bush Jr. isn’t a starting linebacker anymore— he isn’t a coverage specialist or good run defender and he doesn’t play special teams. If a team is going to put Bush on their roster they need to have roles that fit his diminished skill set, and so far he has never stood out on special teams. I’m sure he’ll find a place to play in the NFL; there’s a good number of worse linebackers out there still on rosters, and some team will talk itself into thinking they can help Bush find his mojo again. But he’s no longer a good linebacker, and can’t see the Steelers trying to keep him around.