In today’s NFL, the linebacker position is all about range—the ability to go sideline-to-sideline and hold your own in coverage against tailbacks and tight ends. After lighting up the NFL Scouting Combine with an outstanding workout, Michigan’s Devin Bush appears have a skill-set tailor-made for just that kind of defensive role.
As Nick Baumgardner reported for the Detroit Free Press, ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay was blown away by the quickness and athleticism Bush displayed in Indianapolis. “Watch the tape. He’s so instinctive. He’s a great leader,” McShay said. “And the workouts he (and LSU linebacker Devin White) put up were pretty remarkable. You have Devin Bush at 5-foot-11, 234 pounds running a 4.43 and it wasn’t even the fastest time of the group. He also ran a 40½-inch vertical jump, over a 10-foot broad jump and a 6.93 in the 3-cone (drill). All of his numbers were ridiculous.”
Of course, it’s no secret that Bush is fast. Or athletic. After he racked up 79 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks for the Wolverines in 2018 on his way to being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Kyle Crabbs of the Draft Network talked up Bush’s versatility and ability to play in subpackages.
“Devin Bush is a player who is set to benefit from this new era of play in the NFL,” Crabbs said. “Bush’s mobility experience in numerous types of responsibilities against the run and upside as a 3rd down defender (blitz ability and potential in coverage) set him up for an impact role. Traditional reps thumping into interior gaps vs. OL takes Bush away from strengths, however. He should be utilized primarily in a gap penetration scheme with a strong DL.”
Gavino Borquez of Draft Wire is also a fan of Bush’s well-rounded skill-set. “Bush displays phenomenal range,” Borquez said. “He’s capable of flowing gap-to-gap or moving to the perimeter to cut down edge runs. Bush has had some beautiful reps in coverage, showing the ability mobility to thrive and carry position players vertically. He’s been an effective blitzer, showing some finesse to his pass rushing ability and usually finishes the job when he gets his hands on the ball carrier.”
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, on the other hand, believes that Bush’s best fit at the pro level would be as a WILL linebacker in a 4-3 set. “Undersized three-down linebacker with the speed and cover talent to make an easy transition to WILL linebacker as a pro,” Zierlein wrote. “There will be NFL defenses who pass on Bush due to his lack of size, but his ability to play fast and free as an outside linebacker should supersede those concerns. He will miss some tackles and get engulfed by blockers at other times, but his play strength and ability to run and cover are extremely valuable in today’s game and should not be diminished due to a tape measurement.”
However, Luke Easterling wrote for Steelers Wire that Bush could potentially also slot as an inside linebacker in the 3-4…say as the long-needed replacement for Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh. “When the Steelers made Shazier the 15th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft,” Easterling said, “he was lauded for his athleticism and versatility, but doubters questioned whether he was physical enough to remain in the middle of the defense at the pro level. Heading into this year’s draft, Bush’s scouting report sounds eerily similar.”
Easterling isn’t the only person in the draftnik community that feels Bush is a good fit for the Steelers at No. 20. That’s where Crabbs has him headed as well.
“Speed at linebacker! The Steelers miss Ryan Shazier‘s burst in the middle of the field and Bush punched his ticket to the first round after showing off his explosiveness at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine,” Crabbs said. “Bush improved at dealing with contact and quickening his reads in 2018 and enters the NFL Draft as a prospect with his arrow pointing upward.”
Dan Kadar of SB Nation is on board with that idea as well. “Here’s your big combine riser,” Kadar said. “Bush has vaulted himself from the second round potentially into the 20s following a strong performance in Indianapolis. He flies around the field in games, and his combine numbers back up the film. He would add a level of athleticism the Steelers need in the back seven.”
Yes, Bush is a bit on the small side for a linebacker, and I won’t argue that at first glance the best fit for him appears to be on the weak-side of a 4-3 scheme. But we’ve seen even smaller players like Deone Bucannon and Mark Barron play inside linebacker in the 3-4 in recent years, and Bush is actually bigger than Shazier and Darron Lee of the New York Jets—both of whom have been productive IDP options playing inside in a three-man front.
Last year, there was some argument among IDP pundits as to whether Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds was the top rookie linebacker in terms of dynasty value. There’s no such dissent this year—White’s a just-about unanimous pick as the top rookie IDP in 2019.
However, just as with the class of 2018 (where bot Smith and Edmunds finished their rookie year as top-15 fantasy options in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring) there really isn’t a loser here. Both White and Bush possess the range and instincts needed to keep them on the field in subpackages. Both are going to get taken on the 2019 draft’s first day. Both are probably going to be every-down players from the beginning of their first NFL games. And both have a good chance of finishing their inaugural professional season inside LB2 territory—at least.
In other words, if you miss out on White, don’t get too upset.
The consolation prize ain’t so bad.