Tim Benz: Praise of Kevin Colbert’s success with Steelers meets acknowledgment of Devin Bush’s failure

It’s a strange juxtaposition for outgoing Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

Since the 2022 draft has ended — Colbert’s last one before he retires from the position once a successor is named — he has been appropriately lauded for his 22 years of positive influence on the organization.

From helping to build two Super Bowl champions, to the foundation of the camaraderie he built with coaches Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, to the relationships he forged with the rest of the front office, ownership, fans and media.

Now, in his last draft, maybe Colbert has set up the franchise for future titles by drafting Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. Perhaps he plucked Ben Roethlisberger’s successor from right next door at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

The past few days have featured an endless parade of well-earned verbal and written bouquets for Colbert.

Well, until Monday. When the Steelers decided against giving inside linebacker Devin Bush a fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

Yeah, Kevin. Before you go, why the heck did you draft that guy anyway?

Bush will probably go down as the worst first-round draft selection of Colbert’s time in Pittsburgh.

That is unless Pickett bombs even worse than Bush has. Or Bush somehow puts together a decent season in his fourth year that makes him worthy of pulling out of the free-agent waters like the Steelers did for 2018 first-round draft selection, Terrell Edmunds.


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Before you dismiss that statement about Bush being the worst Colbert-era No. 1 pick as knee-jerk hyperbole in the wake of Monday’s dismissal of his $10.892 fifth-year option for 2023, consider the background of how he was selected.

The Steelers traded up 10 spots in the first round to the Denver Broncos’ 10th pick, by giving up 2019’s first- and second-round selections (20th and 52nd) as well as the third-round selection in 2020. That’s a lot given how little Bush has produced.

That’s the difference between Bush and how some of the other foul balls from Round 1 of Colbert’s tenure failed to pan out.

I’m talking about players such as Rashard Mendenhall (23rd in 2008), Ziggy Hood (32nd in ’09), Jarvis Jones (17th in ’13), Artie Burns (25th in ’16), Edmunds (28th in ’18) .

Sure, Bush has been better than some of those examples, specifically Jones and Burns. But they were all taken in the back half of the first round, and the Steelers weren’t rocketing up the draft board to get them. At least Mendenhall and Hood played in a Super Bowl (2010 versus the Green Bay Packers). Mendenhall had 1,273 yards rushing that year and 1,108 the year before.

Yes, of course, Bush’s knee injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of ’20 is a factor in what has gone wrong for the Michigan product in Pittsburgh. But we also can’t pretend he would’ve been great by this point if it never happened.

True, Bush was starting to show flashes in early ’20 before he went down against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 16 at Heinz Field. But the asterisk earned because of the ACL injury can only be so big.

Some of the shortcomings we saw from Bush in ’21 weren’t issues directly tied to the knee injury. Like his apparent issues reading and diagnosing plays pre- and post-snap and simply getting overwhelmed by bigger players on opposing offenses.

If we are being honest, little to no criticism or second-guessing of Colbert occurred when the Steelers drafted Bush. He was widely applauded for doing so. I was 100% on board with the move. The Steelers needed to be aggressive in pursuing a perceived top-10 talent that was supposed to end their meandering quest to replace Ryan Shazier after his spinal injury.

I was all in favor of giving away the farm to get Bush in the top 10. So this is by no means an attempt at an “I told you so” directed at Colbert on his way out the door. It’s a disappointment that Bush can’t be looked upon as someone who helped bolster Colbert’s already strong legacy of first-round picks.

Technically, I suppose he still could. If Bush somehow magically recaptures what he was starting to show before the knee injury of 2020, great. The Steelers are usually loathe to give up on a first-rounder that they think has more to give before shying away from a fifth-year option.

Just look at Edmunds. They struggled with that decision for him and — albeit at a bargain rate — even decided to retain his roster spot by way of giving him a one-year deal after free agency began.

Maybe something like that can happen for Bush. It’s not a very high bar to grasp. But he needs to start somewhere.

Or maybe the first pick of the next general manager who replaces Colbert will be made to replace Bush instead.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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