Bush for Defensive Rookie of Year? Why not?


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Steelers linebacker Devin Bush -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Oddsmakers have installed Steelers rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush as one of the top bets to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

And if history means anything, Bush is a solid choice based on not only his talent but the position he plays.

The NFL has been choosing a Defensive Rookie of the Year since 1967. In that time, 18 true linebackers have won the award as the league's best rookie defender.

That percentage is even better since 2000. In the 19 seasons since 2000, linebackers have won the award nine times. In the past 15 years, they have won seven, with three edge rushers winning, three defensive tackles and two defensive backs.

Then, there is this: Of the last dozen players to win the award, 11 have been first-round picks. Even tilting things more in Bush's favor is the fact 10 of the past 12 Defensive Rookie of the Year winners have been top-15 picks.

So, as a linebacker selected in the top 15 picks in the draft, Bush meets a lot of the criteria when it comes to past winners.

But so does Devin White, selected by the Buccaneers with the fifth pick in this year's draft.

That's why White, another inside linebacker, is favored slightly ahead of Bush depending on what betting service odds are used. The only other player with consistently lower odds to win is Nick Bosa, a defensive end with the 49ers.

The Steelers had Bush rated slightly ahead of White in their overall player rankings and traded their first-round pick (20th overall), second and a 2020 third-round selection to the Broncos to move up to the 10th-overall pick to select the Michigan star.

And he looked every bit the part of a star in the team's offseason program, drawing raves from his new teammates.

"He's not the biggest guy, but he definitely walks with a presence, walks with a purpose," outside linebacker T.J. Watt said of the 5-foot-11, 234-pound Bush. "He's taken on a good role in knowing all the plays and being able to call some plays for us."

That's a good first step for the rookie. If he can call the defenses, he can stay on the field. And that's what he'll need to do to outperform other players in this year's rookie class to win DROY.

What kind of numbers might he need to put up?

A look back over what the past 10 linebackers to win the award shows they averaged 15.7 games played with 1.4 interceptions, 5.2 pass defenses, 134.5 tackles and 3.9 sacks.

If Bush puts up numbers in that neighborhood, the Steelers would be very happy.

Colts linebacker Darius Leonard -- the lone non-first-round pick to win the award in the past 12 years -- won it last season by posting 163 tackles, seven sacks, eight pass defenses and two interceptions.

Tackles, which aren't an official NFL statistic, can be fudged. Those are kept by individual teams and some teams are notorious for padding those stats.

But of the past 10 linebackers to win the award, the Texans' DeMeco Ryans had the most tackles (174) in 2006, while the Steelers' Kendrell Bell (83) had the fewest.

And therein lies part of the problem for Bush. Since he would be one of two inside linebackers on the field most of the time, he has to share his tackles.

Bell, who won the award in 2001, did so by posting the best sack numbers of any true inside linebacker. He had nine sacks that season, edging the Bears' Brian Urlacher, who had eight in winning the award in 2000.

Interceptions are another way for linebackers to get noticed. And the Texans' Brian Cushing won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2009, in part, by picking off four passes and breaking up 10. But previous winners Ryans, the Patriots' Jerrod Mayo (2008), Bell and Bills' Shane Conlan (1987) all won the award without an interception.

But the Steelers brought in Bush to be an every-down linebacker. Their expectation is that he'll be very good in coverage.

He showed that off throughout the offseason program. Several times he was matched up with Vance McDonald, breaking up passes intended for the big, speedy tight end.

"He showed really quickly he's going to be able to fit in well with the defense with that group of guys," McDonald said. "When you look at him, you don't expect him to be as quick or as agile as he is."

If he performs as the team expects, he could be the fourth Steelers defender to win the award, joining Bell, Jack Lambert (1974) and Joe Greene (1969).

Related: Will Bush runs with the 1s right away?
Bush has loaded plate

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