Ever since he was picked in the first round of 2015 NFL Draft by the Steelers, Dupree has been one of the most polarizing players for Steelers fans. Some truly view him as a liability as a whole, while others view him as having a pretty big impact on the whole defense and how it works.
The answer is somewhat between those two. I would call Dupree average, but I do believe that he has merit while he is on the field. He is not as easily replaceable as people view him to be, but it certainly is not because of his pass rushing ability.
As for a breakdown of what I see on film, it is that Dupree is a very inconsistent pass rusher, who when faced with top level tackles, is stonewalled, but when faced with sub-par tackles, dominates them. I will say that he is an average-to-above average run defender, while being exceptionally good in pass coverage, so that is where his merit comes into play. He is not a pass rusher, he is more of a coverage and run-defense specialist. How you view that is up to you. For some showing of his pass rush inconsistencies, Kyle Murphy and David Bakhtiari give a very good glimpse of what I just described.
Dupree's athleticism at least allows him to push back a bit, but again he plays too tall, has no bend around the edge, and has below average hand usage that allows Bahktiari to lock him up before the guard comes over to help. He has to play lower and get more active hands. pic.twitter.com/qQhnzhZqPj— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
Bud Dupree gets locked up here due to leverage mainly. He plays far too upright and gets locked up by Bahktiari because of it. No speed to power conversion, hands aren't very active, and once he got locked up he had almost no defense against it because he loses the leverage. pic.twitter.com/XFm9ScbHja— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
On both of these plays, Dupree has a few problems that both present themselves.
The first would be leverage. I can not stress how important leverage is in football. If you have the leverage, you win on the line. Dupree plays far too high, far too often, and it leads to him being stonewalled. On both clips, Bakhtiari is lower than Dupree by a lot, and Dupree gets locked up easily due to it. Due to his lackluster leverage, Dupree has no ability to convert his explosive athletic ability into power. In addition, he can get no bend because of how high he plays because of how tall he is, he never has any room to bend. Once he gets locked up, his hand usage is really lackluster and they almost seem to die out. If you lose leverage, you at least have to try to gain it back, Dupree’s hands seem to just flare out in terms of that once he loses leverage. That is the key reason as to why he has not blossomed into a good pass rusher, because he always loses his leverage and his hands are not very active. However, good news for Dupree, because he is an absolute athletic freak. What this means is against tackles who are not very good, Dupree is able to be a source of pressure and can cause havoc. We saw this a number of times against the Packers when Kyle Murphy was out there.
This is what he needs to be doing more often. He uses his explosiveness and gets bend around the edge. Bad pass set by the tackle, but still, Dupree got low and bent around the edge. It might be against a bad tackle, but he can do it when he gets it all right. pic.twitter.com/xVf2zZiGw6— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
Here's the sack. Not too impressive, Murphy really was slow to get it of his stance and it was a terrible pass set by him. Bad footwork and opened up the edge and Dupree won by pure athleticism. pic.twitter.com/XV8cN82woY— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
Murphy has two terrible pass sets here. His footwork is terrible simple due to the false step he takes for no reason, which allows the edge for athletic edge rushers, or anyone with bend. He also gets into his set slowly, so we can see just how sub-par he is as a whole.
Yet, Dupree still wins both of these reps and shows a bit of bend on the first of them. Murphy somehow plays taller than Dupree and he gets the leverage as well, so when he does use his athleticism and gets the leverage that allows him to bend, he can actually bend. That is a key note, because not everyone has the natural ability to bend, but it seems Dupree at least has a semblance of it. That will be key if he ever fixes the leverage issue.
So, I do not expect much of a jump in production from Dupree this season. Simply due to his athleticism, he will get pressures, but he will not convert that many into sacks, and at times he will be completely stonewalled. He had forty pressures last season, so we know he can already do that, the only question is if he can makes his hands more active and get better leverage. The other way to make Dupree more productive is to scheme him with pressures up the middle. They did this a few times last year and it worked well, but it also showed some effectiveness against the Packers.
A thought might be to scheme Dupree with pass rushes up the middle. If he does this, I see no reason why not to keep trying, he forced Hundley out of the pocket not just because of good scheming, but because he means leverage and gets by Montgomery. Good rep. pic.twitter.com/MOOnhOuo5h— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
Dupree’s athleticism is a useful tool in these types of situations because even if the running back cuts him off like he does here, Dupree will at least disrupt the pocket and force the quarterback to move. This could be a useful tool versus players who are less mobile, like say Tom Brady. The Steelers at the very least should explore this option more to see if they can find some success against less mobile quarterbacks with this tactic.
However, where Dupree’s real value comes in his coverage ability. Dupree has excellent coverage skills for a linebacker, and coupled with T.J. Watt’s ability to do the same on the other side, they, at the very least, combine to be a very solid coverage duo at inside linebacker. If there is one thing that Joey Porter has done well with the outside linebackers, it is that he has taught them to cover well, because Keion Adams and Ola Adeniyi have both improved in that aspect from their college tape, and Dupree is much of the same.
This is a really nice job by Dupree. The whole play is in zone coverage, but Dupree follows his man to out on his flat and stays very disciplined in his zone. Rodgers ends up taking off for a scramble, but it was because Dupree had a good rep on his main read. pic.twitter.com/4kZFPFs4lF— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
Dupree has fantastic zone discipline. He knows how to let his guys go and has great awareness of where his help is on all plays. Solid shift from the man who ran the corner to the underneath route, this is good zone coverage. pic.twitter.com/ET29ac4a9O— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018
Dupree has exceptional zone discipline and awareness. Notice how in the second clip he rides the corner route up until he has help up top and then immediately works back down to cover the curl. If he is not great in coverage, that never happens and one of the two routes would have been a reception, but instead Dupree plays his zone absolutely perfectly. You will also notice that off the line, Dupree never lets anyone to the outside or inside, that is because he does a great of mirroring every step that the receivers are taking in the routes. This has been a very underrated aspect of Dupree’s game for far too long and Dupree should get credit for being a great coverage linebacker at the least, because very often nothing happens in coverage near him.
Overall, Bud Dupree is a very inconsistent player as a whole. His pass rush has a lot of refinement that still needs to go into it for him to be anywhere near effective against good tackles, but his coverage skills make up somewhat for his lackluster impact in the pass-rush. Dupree is not a simply bad or good player, it depends more so on the day, but if there is one thing for sure, Dupree is not a liability.