I’ve never subscribed to the theory that Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree, the first-round pick out of Kentucky in the 2015 NFL Draft, is a bust.
Because it just seems untrue to call a 25-year-old with 24 career starts and 14.5 sacks a bust. Has Dupree underachieved up to this point in his career? I’ll give you that. But he’s also coming off of his first full season as a starter (he started 15 games a year ago, after missing Week-1 against the Browns with an injury) in which he recorded a career-high in sacks with six.
No, those numbers won’t make one proclaim Dupree a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate heading into 2018 (a proclamation some teammates were ready to bestow upon him last summer), but they are encouraging enough to make one think he's headed in the right direction career-wise.
Speaking of direction, the plan is for Dupree to rush the quarterback from a different one this season, the right or blind-side, while T.J. Watt will be doing the same from the strong side.
The theory for the switch is that moving Dupree over to the blind side will allow him to use his speed and athleticism to close in on quarterbacks before they have a chance to spot him and elude him by moving up in the pocket.
Will this theory pan out?
If Dupree’s preseason debut against the Packers, in which he had one sack and nearly another, was any indication, it just might.
After doing some research, I realize Dupree had the most success going up against Green Bay’s backup left tackle and was mainly neutralized against the starter, but I also realize Dupree only played a few defensive series.
I also know rushing the passer in the NFL isn’t about beating the guy across from you on every snap—left tackles get paid, too. It’s about beating him enough times to make a difference in the game.
If moving Dupree to the weak side allows him to pin his ears back more regularly and just get after the passer, well, isn’t that what the Steelers have been missing at that position since James Harrison’s heyday?
Speaking of the heyday of the Steelers’ defense, if there’s one thing that’s been missing for the better part of a decade, it’s superior play from its book-end outside linebackers. In fact, you probably have to go all the way back to about midway through the 2011 season — right before LaMarr Woodley tore his hamstring against the Patriots — to find a time when Pittsburgh’s outside linebackers excelled simultaneously on both the strong and weak sides.
Coming off of a rookie season in which he excelled in many different areas, it’s easy to assume Watt will easily make the transition to the strong side. But, given the opinions so many have of him, it’s easy to assume Dupree won’t respond well to the switch.
The Steelers have used the draft to invest heavily in outside linebacker in recent years. The position has produced some legendary performers over the past four or five decades, and it’s time the position produces some new legends in the immediate future.
Can Bud Dupree, now rushing the passer from the same side that the likes of Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter and James Harrison once did, be the next weak-side legend?
The future of the Steelers’ defense may depend on it.