With 21 days to go until the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we continue our 30 prediction in 30 days series with another bold claim for 2019.
Alternating daily between myself and BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman, we will offer our predictions for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. Posing an argument for and against our predictions, we invite you to weigh in on the debate as well.
Following on from Jeff’s claim that Mike Tomlin will be successful with three replay challenges in 2019 on Wednesday, I turn my attention toward the Steelers No.1 draft pick this year
Prediction: Rookie linebacker Devin Bush will lead the Steelers in tackles in 2019
Why it will happen: As the team’s highest draft pick since the selection of Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick in 2000, there are plenty of reason to be optimistic about the potential of Devin Bush this year. And seemingly on a fast track to be the starter at inside linebacker with the almost instant release of Jon Bostic after his selection, there is every reason to believe that the rookie will open the season at the top of the depth chart.
For the second year in a row, safety Sean Davis was the defensive leader in tackles in 2018 with 80 combined stops, a figure that would have barely cracked the top three in any of the previous 11 seasons. And prior to 2017, Ryan Clark was the only non-linebacker to lead the team in tackles in the Tomlin era when he recorded 100 combined tackles in 2001. In each of the nine other seasons, the title was taken linebacker, and specifically an inside linebacker with the exception of James Harrison in 2007.
Winning the title in Pittsburgh has traditionally required a total well over 100, a feat achieve by Lawrence Timmons in 2016 - 114, 2015 - 119, 2014 - 139, 2013 - 126 and 2010 - 135, with the off years in between claimed by Larry Foote in 2012 - 113 and the aforementioned season from Clark. James Farrior would take the title in 2009 - 102 and 2008 - 133.
These numbers highlight a downward trend from the linebackers group over the past few seasons, in large part because of the loss of Ryan Shazier who was expected to follow the path laid down by Timmons. It is also worth noting that the year the linebacker was hurt in 2017 was a season he finished second on the team in tackles behind Davis by one, this despite missing the last four games of the year.
With the arrival of a true three-down linebacker in Bush, there is every reason to believe that the former Michigan product can achieve something that Vince Williams (76) and Jon Bostic (73) failed to do last season. While both players found themselves substituted at times on passing downs, that is unlikely to be the case for the more athletic Bush. And for a player who recorded 95 tackles during his second season in college in just 13 games, it is clear that he has the capacity to improve on those numbers in the NFL.
Fellow first-round draft pick Terrell Edmunds was far from perfect during his rookie season, but he was only 3 tackles away from leading the team. And if he can record 78 tackles in a season, it can only be imagined the numbers Bush could produce through 16 games.
Why it won’t happen: A rookie has not led the team in tackles since the NFL first began keeping the statistic consistently in 1994. Since then, perhaps the most notable rookie season of any Pittsburgh linebacker was that of 2003 second round draft Kendrell Bell. Voted Defensive Rookie of the Year, Bell would finish the year with 99 tackles, second to James Farrior with 141. None of the names before or since were even close.
Asking a rookie to start in Week 1 is enough of a challenge in its own right, but expecting him to lead a veteran defense is quite an ask. Some might also point to second-year safety Edmunds as the one who will take the crown on defense given his numbers during his relatively up and down debut as a starter.
What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!
Will rookie LB Devin Bush lead the Steelers in tackles in 2019?
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