Futures
Analyzing the tape of college football's best players... and the NFL's future stars.

Futures: Devin Bush

by Derrik Klassen

The NFL is no longer moving toward an era of smaller, faster linebackers -- that era is here in full swing, and will remain as long as offenses continue to force defenders to play in space. Linebackers such as Deion Jones, Lavonte David, Telvin Smith, etc., are the new normal.

Michigan's Devin Bush is next in line to continue the reign of the NFL's electric breed of linebacker. A two-year starter under defensive coordinator Don Brown's tutelage, Bush asserted himself as a leader on the field. Bush posted 19.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and 11 passes defended in his two seasons as a starter while carrying the burden of being the defense's "quarterback" and shot-caller. Bush put on many hats in a complex, aggressive Brown defense.

With his stock already soaring, Bush solidified his place at the top of draft boards with his performance at the NFL combine last week. Bush measured in at 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds, and he blew the athletic testing out of the water. Bush flew by the competition with a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, adding a 40.5-inch vertical jump and a 124-inch broad jump. All of those numbers were in the 89th percentile among linebackers, and his 40-yard dash placed in the 97th percentile. Even Bush's 6.93-second three-cone drill and 4.23 short-yard shuttle were above average for his position.

As put on display at the combine, Bush's game is about speed and explosion. Bush is a blur getting from Point A to Point B. He thrives when plays move outside of the tackle box, both versus the run and the pass.

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Notre Dame felt Bush's wrath in the first game of the season. Bush (10) is shaded just outside of the center to the field on this play -- at the snap, he's near the bottom of the midfield logo. After drifting forward in reaction to the offensive line's zone action, Bush realizes Notre Dame has actually called a BASH (back away) read -- more or less an inverted read-option.

Bush recognizes the play and redirects outside of defensive end Rashan Gary (3) to meet the running back in the alley. Bush gets help from the nickel cornerback, who squeezes the runner back inside, but Bush's closing speed allows him to meet the runner 2 yards past the line of scrimmage. The crushing blow Bush delivers puts the ballcarrier on the ground and limits him to a short gain.

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Here is Bush working through a bit of traffic in the red zone to make another play out wide. Michigan State uses an under-center snap, which helps to disguise handoffs, and end-around action forces Michigan's defense to sit tight until they get a clear read on who has the ball. Bush remains patient and waits for the ballcarrier to be declared before making his move. Once Bush triggers to the runner, he makes sure to maintain inside leverage and force the back outside. Bush is then able to use his closing speed to bring down the runner before he can turn the corner for a touchdown.

Bush is equally as impressive working to the perimeter in coverage. He keeps his wits about him when working against cross traffic and always manages to find a way to the outside to shut down yards-after-catch opportunities.

The two following plays ask Bush to do different things, but both showcase Bush's ability to work out wide against the pass and bring down the ballcarrier.

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If speed linebackers cannot use their speed to blow up screen passes, they are not maximizing their skill set. That is not an issue for Bush. In this instance, Bush recognizes the screen from the jump and works to maintain outside leverage on the blockers. Bush fires downhill the moment the pass is confirmed and drills the running back for a loss, blowing right past every potential blocker on the way there.

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Here, Bush has to work a bit more to make a good play. Notre Dame tries to use their two slot players to cross into Bush's area and disrupt his path to the perimeter, but Bush is not playing those games. Bush recognizes the rub action and finds a way to flow over the top of it. Now with a free path to the ball, Bush again shows his blazing speed and hits the running back as soon as he brings the ball in. That type of speed is the difference between forcing a third-and-medium and allowing a potential first down.

Bush flashes moments of potential on more stressful coverage assignments, too. It would be a stretch to say Bush is a complete coverage player, and he is certainly nowhere near his fellow "small" linebacker such as Deion Jones in that regard, but there are moments of intrigue on Bush's tape that could be molded into something more.

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Bush reads this slant throw all the way. With how wide the slot receiver's split is, Bush has the intuition and film study application to realize the offense wants to throw a slant to that area. Bush triggers as soon as the ball is snapped and runs straight through where the ball should be thrown. However, the throw ends up high and gives nobody a chance at the ball, resulting in a collision. Bush does not get the interception he could have on this play, but the awareness is nice to see.

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This time, Bush is caught slipping for a second, but uses his great recovery speed to save the play. Bush initially creeps up to play the receiver stretching to the flat before realizing he needs to carry vertically down the seam. Bush flips his hips and books it up the field, somehow managing to catch up to the receiver and get into position to defend an accurate pass. Despite Bush's recovery efforts, the ball ends up a bit off the mark anyway. This is not a perfect play, Bush's ability to salvage what could have been disastrous with his redirection and recovery speed shows he can work with a larger margin of error than other linebackers.

On top of being a master flat defender and potential all-around coverage savant, Bush is an insane blitzer. Bush was a perfect fit for Brown's aggressive, blitz-heavy defense. When Bush gets to loop around the edge or shoot through the A-gap, he looks like peak Anthony Barr.

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Ripping through the offensive line seemingly uncontested is not nearly as easy as it looks. Bush is able to bend when necessary and turn on the jets to close the gap, which instantly makes him a unique third-down menace. When a linebacker can close the gap a step or two earlier than the quarterback anticipates, it can often be the difference in securing sacks like in these two clips.

Of course, it is not all sunshine and rainbows for Bush. Though a plenty good player overall, Bush does lack some of the fortitude and bully mentality you want from a linebacker between the tackles. Teams should be able to hide that in part by the way they use him -- hopefully as a weakside linebacker who is always given space -- but Bush's shortcomings between the tackles are indisputable. They are not a matter of knowing where to go, but how to finish the play once he gets there. Bush has a tendency to occupy the right gap, only to hesitate when taking on a block and get shoved off his spot. The two following plays show Bush slowing up to take on blocks that result in him giving up more yards than he should have.

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It is frustrating to see Bush handle blocks this way. The base of the issue is Bush's will to get physical with blockers. Bush tends to slow up, chop his feet, and let the contact come to him. Bush rarely initiates the contact. As such, Bush ends up getting rocked back.

The second part of the equation is that Bush fails to get low and explode through his hips when engaging blockers. Deion Jones, a similar-sized player, and Zach Cunningham, a very slim linebacker, both do well to make up for their size against blockers by getting low right before contact and shooting into the chest of the offensive linemen. Everything else about Bush's game suggests he has the "want to" and explosion to do this himself, but it is not something he has shown very much as of yet.

In similar fashion, Bush can struggle to finish off tackles when he is not attacking head-on. Even in the handful of clips of Bush's good plays above, the way he brought down ballcarriers was shaky or reliant on knocking them down rather than wrapping them up. Bush has a few too many other plays on film where he gets his hands on a ballcarrier, only to be fought off and surrender a few more yards than the offense deserved.

Thankfully for Bush, his blemishes should not stop him from being impacftul at the next level. Bush possesses a number of clear, valuable strengths and outstanding athletic ability, while his few flaws can be either outweighed by his strengths or hidden by the scheme.

The dream for Bush is to become Lavonte David. David is a weakside "chase" linebacker who wins primarily by being faster than the offense in all phases of the game, even if he does get washed completely out of plays by blockers from time to time. More specifically, David is excellent at working wide in the run game, suffocating quick pass concepts, and being a nightmare as a blitzer. Bush should be used in all the same ways David is.

Bush does not have to reach those heights to be a good player, though. David is a top-tier outside linebacker in the NFL. A 90 percent version of David is a reasonable comparison for Bush; that would make him a welcome addition for just about any team in the NFL, be they willing to bend to his skill set.

Comments

3 comments, Last at 10 Mar 2019, 6:28pm

3 Re: Futures: Devin Bush

Sounds like Bush has skills that can't be taught and flaws that can be corrected by coaching. It may be that he prefers to keep an eye on the ballcarrier and leaves himself open to blocks. It also may come down to confidence in his teammates to get to the ball if he gets blocked out. He should do fine with sufficient support around him.