Two of Michigan's top defensive players were were selected among the top 12 picks in the NFL Draft that began Thursday night in Nashville, Tenn.
Former Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, a consensus All-American, was selected No. 10 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who traded up to take Bush, in the first round. Two picks later, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary was selected by the Packers at No. 12.
Bush is the highest pick among former Michigan players since offensive lineman Jake Long was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2008 draft. Chase Winovich, a defensive lineman, and cornerback David Long are projected as second-round picks on Friday.
Since his impressive showing at the NFL Combine last month, Bush’s draft stock gained steam. He was the Big Ten’s Linebacker of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and led Michigan in tackles the last two seasons. He had 102 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss, in 2017 and last season he had 80 tackles, five sacks and six pass breakups.
Gary missed three regular-season games because of a shoulder injury, and he chose not to play in Michigan's bowl game. In nine games last season, Gary had 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks. One of the concerns regarding Gary, who during the combine and at Michigan’s Pro Day called himself the best player overall in the draft, was his production — he had 10 sacks in three seasons with the Wolverines.
As the call from the Packers came in, Gary was captured by television cameras in tears while on the phone receiving the news. He was with about 30 family and friends, including Michigan teammates, at a function at Revel & Roll in Ann Arbor.
Packers reporters asked Gary, who said he had “minimal contact” with the Packers during the pre-draft process, during a conference call why he had so much emotion.
“No. 1 it comes from my love of the game and just having an organization like the Green Bay Packers believe in me and call my name,” Gary said. “It’s a foot in the doorstep. I can’t wait to be great now and be a great Green Bay Packer.”
Bush, a co-captain last season, left Michigan with a year of eligibility remaining. He suffered a hip injury in the regular-season finale at Ohio State and said he was not fully healed until the third week of NFL Combine preparations. Bush did not play in Michigan's bowl game.
He is a big hitter with terrific sideline-to-sideline speed and was a tone-setter for the Wolverines because of his ferocious hitting.
“I’m a twitchy linebacker,” Bush said at the NFL Combine. “I can cover, I can blitz, I can play the run. I can do it all. I can cover. I’m not worried about the size of a guy or how much taller or heavier he is than me. Football is football. It’s a man’s sport. He’ll have to bring me as a man.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Thursday night he believes Bush could play early “with his skill set.” Tomlin praised Bush’ well-rounded game and called him a “cerebral player.”
“(He has) that coverage ability, but I don’t want to underscore his blitzing capabilities, too,” Tomlin said. “I think that that was as exciting to me as his coverage. He’s an exciting all-situations linebacker, and to have that type of athleticism in the second level of defense is critical in today’s NFL.”
The Steelers traded their 20th overall pick to the Broncos and gave up their second pick in the draft (52nd overall) and their third pick in 2020 for Bush.
“We had this in mind,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters. “We hoped it was going to work out.”
Former NFL safety Louis Riddick, now an ESPN analyst, said Monday on the Dan Patrick Show that Bush was the best prospect.
“The best player in this draft, for my money, pound for pound, the best player in this draft is Devin Bush from Michigan,” Riddick said. “If you can tell me exactly what his weakness is, I can show you a play that tells you it’s not a weakness. Played with his dad (Devin Bush Sr.) in Atlanta (and) this kid has all his father’s tenacity, speed, striking ability. he has better football instincts. (His) football smarts are off the charts.”
Gary's emotions upon receiving the call from the Packers might have had something to do with talk this week that he might be selected later in the first round because of a report regarding his shoulder, not to mention his lack of strong sack statistics.
He told reporters Thursday night he had suffered a torn labrum — he said last fall that the injury happened just before the start of the season — but the shoulder is healthy. A report this week said Gary could have surgery after the season, but he said he will not require surgery.
Green Bay could be looking at Gary as an outside linebacker, and he feels Michigan prepared him to make that sort of transition if needed.
“At the end of the day, I feel like I can do a lot of things,” Gary said. “They want me to play that position, I’m ready to do so. The transition to that is not going to be bad. It’s something I’m used to but of course I’ve got to get better. I’m just ready to work.”
Gary was the top player coming out of high school, but his lack of sack production in college has received considerable discussion. He was asked Thursday if he has a chip on his shoulder because of his statistics and not having more than 10 sacks.
“To be honest, man, I’m just happy to be a Green Bay Packer,” Gary said. “When it comes to parts of my game to improve, I’m trying to improve on everything and pass rush would be one of my main ones.”