October 18th, 2020 at 4:32pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
The Steelers picked up a dominant 38-7 win over the Browns on Sunday, but they didn’t escape the rivalry game unscathed. Linebacker Devin Bush indeed tore his ACL and will be done for the season, a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
Bush started 15 games as a rookie last year and every game so far this season, so it’s a huge loss. In fact, the tenth overall pick of last year’s draft had played every snap this season before going down. Pittsburgh’s defense has been the driving force behind their perfect 5-0 start, and it won’t be easy to replace him. Robert Spillane, a 2018 UDFA who plays almost entirely on special teams, filled in after Bush got hurt.
The Steelers were allowing only 3.3 yards per carry, the second best figure in the league, entering Sunday. They completely shutdown Kareem Hunt and Cleveland’s vaunted rushing attack, but slowing down opponent ground games will be a lot more difficult without Bush in the middle of the field.
As we wind down the final week of the 2019 offseason, let’s look at a few of the league’s linebacker situations. The Broncos are one of the two teams opening training camp next week, joining the Falcons, and they’ve had a quietly interesting year at this spot.
Denver passed on adding an inside linebacker to replace five-year starter Brandon Marshall, but the report of the team being ready to make a major investment at this spot was accurate. Not only did the Broncos plan to select Devin Bush at No. 10 overall, they wrote the Michigan linebacker’s name on a first-round card, Mike Klis of 9News notes. Broncos VP of player personnel Matt Russell told draft rep Derrick Thomas to write Bush’s name on their card but instructed him not to turn it in, Klis adds. They ended up trading the pick, which became Bush, to the Steelers for additional draft capital.
The Broncos plan to use Todd Davis and 2018 fourth-rounder Josey Jewell as their starting inside ‘backers, and while that may leave the team vulnerable in coverage, the coaching staff has hatched an idea to help combat that. Denver drafted Oregon edge rusher Justin Hollins in the fifth round, and instead of hoping he becomes strictly an off-the-bench pass rusher, the Broncos plan to deploy the four-year Duck as a base-set outside ‘backer and an inside player in nickel packages, Klis writes. Hollins ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, leading the team to see if he can be a solution to its problems covering tight ends in recent years.
Marshall and Vontaze Burfict will add veteran presences to the Raiders’ long-understaffed linebacking corps, and DC Paul Guenther said (via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Scott Bair) Burfict’s arrival will free him up to utilize more of his playbook than he did last season. Burfict’s issues will not lie with the former Bengals DC’s playbook but rather staying on the field, which has proved to be a persistent issue for the talented player in his six-year career.
Avery Williamson will slide to the Jets‘ weakside linebacker spot to accommodate C.J. Mosley, Brian Costello of the New York Post notes. The market-shattering free agent addition will become Gang Green’s defensive play-caller, though both are set to be three-down ‘backers in Gregg Williams‘ defense. In his previous Jets role, Williamson totaled a career-high 120 tackles and graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 18 traditional linebacker last season.
The contract Ravens outside ‘backer Matt Judon will likely focus on most in terms of establishing his value is likely Za’Darius Smith‘s Packers deal, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Judon’s 19 sacks in three seasons are more than Smith’s 18.5-sack total in four, the the latter parlayed his impressive contract year into a four-year, $66MM deal. It is not yet known if the Ravens and Judon have begun extension discussions, but both he and third-year inside linebacker starter Patrick Onwuasor are due for 2020 free agency.
The NFL Draft is just barely in the rear view mirror, which means that teams are full of hope for their young rookies. But, of course, the NFL Draft is largely a crapshoot, and not every player will realize their full potential.
This year’s draft had talent, but lacked a true consensus on the top player. Many evaluators pegged defensive end Nick Bosa as the player with the highest ceiling in the 2019 class, but other saw Alabama’s Quinnen Williams as the “safest bet.” The 49ers pounced on Bosa with the No. 2 pick while the Jets (and former GM Mike Maccagnan) were delighted to land Williams at No. 3 overall.
Leading up to the draft, much of the attention was on Oklahoma quarterback (and one-time MLB hopeful) Kyler Murray. When Murray announced that he would ditch the Oakland A’s, his stock exploded – Murray was considered a borderline first-round prospect in the winter, but wound up as the Cardinals’ choice at No. 1 overall. Murray has the speed that teams crave at the QB position, but questions persist about his size and overall lack of experience as a full-time starter.
The Cardinals’ long flirtation with Murray brought us the expected result, but the Raiders gave us the real first shock of the draft when they tapped Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall. Not to be outdone, the Giants snagged Duke’s Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall. Heading into the draft, neither player was thought to be anywhere near Top 10 consideration, but Mike Mayock and Dave Gettleman were unwilling to trade down and risk losing out on their guys.
The domino effect created by those picks allowed the Bucs to grab inside linebacker Devin White (No. 5 overall), the Jaguars to land outside linebacker Josh Allen (No. 6), the Lions to snag top tight end T.J. Hockenson, the Bills to draft defensive tackle Ed Oliver (No. 9 overall), and the Steelers to finish out the Top 10 with linebacker Devin Bush. Most of those picks were warmly received, but nothing is certain in the draft.
Which Top 10 pick do you think has the highest bust potential? Click below to cast your vote (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comment section.
The Steelers made an uncharacteristically aggressive jump in the first round of last month’s draft, trading up from No. 20 to No. 10 to select Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. Today, they signed Bush to his rookie contract, as Pro Football Talk reports (via Twitter). It will be a four-year, $18.8MM deal (all guaranteed), with a fifth-year option for 2023.
In addition to their No. 20 overall selection, Pittsburgh shipped the No. 52 overall pick in the 2019 draft plus a 2020 third-rounder to Denver. But Bush’s talent could more than justify that type of gamble, as he will immediately slide into the Steelers’ starting lineup as an inside ‘backer.
Bush is a three-down player who has shown an ability to thrive in both man-to-man and zone coverage, and he also flashed some pass-rushing prowess during his tenure at Michigan. He finished his final collegiate season with 41 tackles (8.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks.
The Steelers have found it difficult to replace Ryan Shazier‘s presence in the middle of their front seven since Shazier’s devastating injury towards the end of the 2017 campaign, and Bush should be able to replicate, or even exceed, Shazier’s production. He doesn’t turn 21 until July 18, and Pittsburgh has every reason to believe it may have found the next great Steel City defender.
With Bush’s signing, third-round CB Justin Layne is the only member of the Steelers’ nine-man draft class who has yet to ink his rookie deal.
At corner, the Jets have 2018 free agent signing Trumaine Johnson and 2019 addition Brian Poole. As of now, they may be asking Darryl Roberts to be a starter. With no draft picks spent on the position, the Jets may still be on the lookout for help here.
Here is the latest post-draft news from the AFC:
The Raiders hoped to trade down from their No. 4 slot, but no calls came, Peter King of NBC Sports notes. Just about every high-end prospect was connected to the Raiders during the pre-draft process, but the team instead went with what most perceived as a bit of a reach in Clelin Ferrell. However, taking the Clemson talent at No. 4 was the team’s backup plan.
Joe Flacco‘s work in the early days of the Broncos‘ offseason program dissuaded John Elway from selecting a quarterback at No. 10 overall, something many mock drafts had the Broncos doing. “What made that decision is, Joe is fitting really well with what we want to do offensively, and he looked great in our minicamp last week,” Elway said Thursday, via King. “He really put on a throwing exhibition last week in camp. I truly think we’ve got a guy coming into his prime.” Of course, less than 24 hours later, Drew Lock was a Bronco. Both King and SI.com’s Albert Breer report the Mizzou prospect was the top passer on Denver’s board, with Breer adding that Elway continually brought up Lock in pre-draft meetings, pointing further to the potential value investment at No. 42.
As for what would have happened if the Broncos did not receive a strong Steelers offer for No. 10? Denver would have a new starting inside linebacker, with King writing the Broncos would have taken Devin Bush and addressed their offensive needs later.
While the Chiefs‘ Hardman pick looks like a Tyreek Hill emergency replacement, and was chosen three rounds ahead of when the polarizing star was taken three years ago, the team views the Georgia speedster as a cross between Hill and gadget-type weapon De’Anthony Thomas — both in terms of role and talent, Breer writes.
Of their six 2019 picks, the Jets used one on an offensive lineman — third-round tackle Chuma Edoga. Gang Green entered free agency with plenty of needs up front. While All-Pro Kelechi Osemele is now slotted in as one of the Jets’ first-string guards, Tom Compton represented the team’s only other veteran addition. Although, Jonotthan Harrison re-signed and appears to be a firm option to start, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY notes. The Jets were eyeing interior lineman Connor McGovern in Round 3, per Vacchiano, but the Cowboys beat them to him. As of now, Harrison — a career part-time starter with the Colts who ended last season as the Jets’ top center — is first in line to snap.
The Broncos were widely connected to Devin Bush in the buildup to the draft, but they wound up trading back when they had the opportunity to draft him. Apparently, they weren’t as high on him as many believed (Twitter link via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic).
“I don’t know if we would have taken him if we didn’t trade,” head coach Vic Fangio said. “He was certainly one of the guys we talked about, but we just felt the trade value trumped the guy we would get there.”
The Broncos didn’t necessarily feel that Bush was the right choice at No. 10 overall, but the Steelers did. That worked to Denver’s benefit, as they came away with a solid haul in exchange for moving down. Denver secured the Steelers’ No. 20 pick – which they used to take tight end Noah Fant – plus the Steelers’ second-round choice and a third-round pick next year.
While you mull the Broncos’ decision, here’s more draft news:
Word has it thatMissouri quarterback Drew Lock went undrafted in the first round due to the nine-inch measurement on his hands (Twitter link via Howard Balzer). For comparison, this year’s first-round QBs Kyler Murray (9 1/2 inches), Dwayne Haskins (9 5/8 inches), and Daniel Jones (9 3/4 inches) proved to have larger hands at the combine. Lock was undoubtedly disappointed, but he probably won’t linger long on Friday night.
The Colts may not be done trading back even after moving out of the first round. The idea of sliding back from the No. 34 overall pick is “attractive,” GM Chris Ballard says (Twitter link via Mike Chappell of CBS4).
Are the Jets and Bills preparing to work together tonight? For weeks, reports have steadily emerged indicating the Jets would not be averse to trading down from No. 3 overall. That prospect has gained steam Thursday, with GMs expecting Gang Green to have buyers for their pick. The Bills might be one of them. The Jets are a decent bet to trade down tonight, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets, adding one team is under the impression New York already has a deal in place. Teams don’t make a habit of intra-division first-round trade agreements, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes (on Twitter) the Bills may be considering moving up to acquire Quinnen Williams. Cimini mentions Williams as a key part in the Jets’ potential trade-down scenario, so if the Cardinals and 49ers choose Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa — as they are expected to — we could have a trade shortly after.
Here is the latest calm-before-the-storm draft buzz:
Linked to just about every other key player atop this draft, the Raiders are now connected to Bosa. They may be interested in moving up to select the Ohio State-honed pass rusher, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com notes (via Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, on Twitter). With the 49ers expected to take Bosa at No. 2 overall, the Raiders would seemingly have to trade into the Cards’ No. 1 spot to pull this off.
Vic Fangio‘s previous team used the No. 8 overall pick to nab Roquan Smith. He may have a similar wish this year. The Broncos‘ first-year coach “very badly” wants Devin Bush to spearhead his new linebacking corps, La Canfora notes. Denver cut its top coverage linebacker, Brandon Marshall, earlier this year and has a need for a three-down inside ‘backer.
The Steelers made calls about possibly trading up for a defender, but they may be resigned to the fact they will not be able to add one of their targets. They do not view Bush as an attainable player, per JLC (on Twitter). With the Broncos linked to Bush at 10, the Steelers would have to likely jump at least 11 draft slots to be in strong position to land the Michigan linebacker prospect.
Vanderbilt-produced cornerback Joejuan Williams has risen into first-round consideration, and the Chargers are intrigued, per La Canfora. The Bolts do not boast a plethora of dire needs, putting them in position for a best-player-available pick at No. 28.
Although the Eagles brought back Timmy Jernigan, they are still going to be in the market for a possible first-round defensive tackle, Jeff McLane of Philly.com tweets. The Eagles are fairly stacked on their defensive front, especially having added Malik Jackson this offseason, but they have been mentioned as a candidate to add another lineman in Round 1.
If the Giants address their pass rusher and quarterback needs tonight, they may be hoping to help their secondary on Friday. They should be expected to consider a safety either in Round 2 or Round 3, per ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan (on Twitter). Big Blue acquired Jabrill Peppers this offseason but has needs everywhere else in its secondary.
Let’s round up the latest draft rumors in advance of tonight’s main event:
We heard several days ago that the Falcons were interested in trading into the Top 10, and that they had their sights set on defensive linemen like Christian Wilkins and offensive linemen. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network confirms that Atlanta is indeed interested in moving up, but his sources say the club’s target is actually linebacker Devin Bush (Twitter link). Per Pelissero, the Falcons would need to leapfrog the Broncos, who hold the No. 10 overall pick, to assure themselves of landing Bush.
Despite all of the rumors suggesting that the Redskins are interested in making a big trade up into the Top 5, Pro Football Talk says that all of the calls that team president Bruce Allen are making are just an example of Allen being Allen and that Washington doesn’t really have a desire to make a move (Twitter link).
Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets that the Rams, who hold the No. 31 overall pick in tonight’s draft, have received a number of calls from teams wanting to trade into the back end of the first round. First-rounders, of course, can be kept under club control for five years instead of four.
As Pelissero notes in a separate tweet, the teams that have shown the most interest in trading down from their current first-round slots are the Jets (No.3), Lions (No. 8), Dolphins (No. 13), Seahawks (Nos. 21 & 29), and Rams (No. 31).
If Kyler Murray should start to fall down the draft board, he may end up having a better financial future in baseball. As Albert Breer of SI.com notes, MLB’s Oakland A’s have offered him a $14MM “sweetener” on top of the $4.6MM bonus he was already due after the club drafted him last year, for a total of $18.66MM. That number would land between the 10th and 11th overall picks in tonight’s NFL draft, so if Murray ends up falling that far, teams are concerned that he would return to the diamond. But Breer still thinks that Murray will be the No. 1 overall pick tonight.
Breer calls Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmonsthe most interesting prospect in the draft. He is one of the top defensive players in his class, but the troubling video showing him striking a woman in high school, along with his ACL tear, have completely removed him from some teams’ draft boards. But there is still a good chance that he will be selected in the first round tonight.
The Panthers and Vikings are both very serious about addressing their needs along the offensive line with early draft picks, as Breer notes in a separate piece. Both clubs used a high number of top-30 visits on O-linemen.
LSU cornerback Andraez “Greedy” Williamsis perhaps the most talented corner in the draft, but as Breer notes, he comes with plenty of red flags concerning his toughness, work ethic, and personality. He did not make a single pre-draft visit, and despite his upside, he could slip out of the first round.
Here’s a look at the latest NFL Draft buzz as players take their final visits:
Michigan linebacker Devin Bush will visit the Ravens on Wednesday, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Baltimore holds the No. 22 overall pick, but they may have to trade up if they want to land him. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is a surefire first-rounder after putting up 85 tackles, 10 sacks, and 18.5 tackles for loss over the past two years.
Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown and Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell will take their last pre-draft visits to the Titans on Wednesday, according to Rapoport (on Twitter). Both players could be on the radar for Tennessee’s No. 19 overall selection.
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver will meet with the Bills, Rapoport hears. They’re far from the only team interested in Oliver, however, and the rival Jets are apparently among the clubs keen on him. The Jets would be reaching if they took Oliver at No. 3 overall, but they’ve been vocal about their desire to trade down. Meanwhile, the Bills could conceivably entertain the Houston product at No. 9 overall.
Midway through a rather notable offseason, given the recent behind-the-curtain look at their previous power structure, the Packers are investigating some high-end quarterback prospects. They are obviously set at sports’ marquee position, but with Aaron Rodgers set to turn 36 by season’s end, Green Bay is at a similar point compared to when it last made a major quarterback investment. The Packers will host Drew Lock on a visit Tuesday, Terez Paylor of Yahoo.com reports (on Twitter). They also tried to set up a summit with Daniel Jones, but the parties’ schedules did not line up, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adds (via Twitter). The Packers took Rodgers when Brett Favre was 36 and sat him for three years. While Green Bay pulling the trigger on a passer would be rather surprising, especially given Rodgers’ contract status, the team does have two first-round picks this year.
Here is the latest from the draft world, staying on the subject of quarterbacks:
Lock will also meet with the Chargers, per Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com (on Twitter). Teams have ramped up their signal-caller-related preparation, in the event Kyler Murray does not go No. 1, according to Robinson, who notes some teams believe this year’s passers could slide a bit should Murray not be the Cardinals’ choice atop the draft. Some modest steam picked up on this notion earlier Monday.
The Dolphins, who already met with Jones, will head to the Duke campus to work out the former Blue Devil starter, Rapoport reports (on Twitter). Teams only have a few more days to host prospects on “30” visits but can still work them out after that deadline passes. Miami will also host Michigan linebacker Devin Bush and Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
Devin White‘s stock has risen during the pre-draft process, to the point he may be the rare off-ball linebacker to be picked in the top five. One of the teams holding such a selection, the Raiders, brought in White for a visit, Rapoport tweets. The Buccaneers, who hold pick No. 5, have been closely connected to the LSU ‘backer. The Raiders have the No. 4 overall pick. Oakland, which also holds the Nos. 24 and 27 selections, will meet with tight end Noah Fant, on Monday as well, Rapoport tweets. The Raiders lost their starting tight end of the past two seasons, Jared Cook, in free agency.
For weeks, the Jets have been viewed as a team that would love to trade down. They are meeting with a prospect Tuesday that would support the fact this is a consideration. Ed Oliver will visit the Jets, per Schefter (on Twitter). While the defensive tackle is a surefire first-round talent, he has not been mocked as a player who would be a consideration at No. 3 overall.
The Titans are visiting with defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, per Rapoport (on Twitter). This is the Notre Dame-developed defender’s second known visit, the first having come with the Saints recently. Tillery remains in rehab after surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum.
Not much has surfaced about which teams are researching an Andre Dillard pick. That has changed. The Washington State tackle prospect is visiting the Falcons on Monday and will meet with the Chargers later this week, Schefter tweets. Additionally, Schefter adds the first-round offensive line hopeful has already visited or worked out for a host of teams — the Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Ravens, Titans, Panthers, Vikings, Jaguars, Bills, Texans, Bengals, Packers, Redskins.