Of all the financial moves the Pittsburgh Steelers have made over the past year or so, the decision to exercise the fifth-year option on Bud Dupree is among their more questionable. Rather than attempt to fill his position via free agency or the draft, the front office opted to commit $9.232 million to the former first-round pick in hopes that he will finally play at a level consistent with his draft status.
A total of 20 sacks in four seasons is far from the return on their investment the Steelers could have envisaged when taking Dupree with the 22nd overall pick, a feat T.J. Watt has matched in just two years, but it seems his lack of relative success has not impacted the edge rushers belief in himself heading into 2019.
When speaking to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN during OTAs, while Dupree is clearly more than aware of the expectations of those around him, he remains confident about his prospects this season.
“Everybody is waiting on that year to come. I know and I feel this year will be the year to show the person I am and just put everything together.”
And despite only recording 5.5 sacks in 2018, Dupree feels he was far more successful than the statistics suggest.
“Last year, I had double-digit sacks in the books -- we can watch the film, put it up. You can see I had double-digit sacks; it’s just that I didn’t finish plays. I got held on four plays, blatant holds. Those should have been strip sacks, missed sacks, people in my arms.
”This year, I have to capitalize on it. If they hold me, I have to rip through the hold and get the sack. If I grab the quarterback, I can’t miss him. I have to finish that. Then it will be a big year, not only for me, but for the team.”
A grade of 60.5 from Pro Football Focus last year indicates Dupree might have more than just a few issues with finishing off a play here and there to worry about, and fans should be forgiven for thinking they have heard this all before.
In 2016, a confident Dupree predicted a big year heading into his second season, only to see it derailed by injury. In 2017, he was even more enthused.
“I’m gonna turn it up another notch. It’s gonna go down. It’s gonna be a big year, man. It’s gonna be a great year. It’s gonna be a big year for me but not only for me, for my whole defense as a whole.”
In 2018, it was the front office hyping up his prospects.
“I think Bud is just scratching the surface to what he can be,” said Kevin Colbert. “He’s shown us enough signs that that can happen and will happen.”
A double-digit sack season from Dupree would not only be cause for huge celebration, but would likely accompany a successful season for the team on defense. Should both he and Watt achieve those numbers in 2019, a deep run in the playoffs could well be a possibility.
But given the failed projections of the last four years, it is difficult to take his latest remarks too seriously. While not expecting Dupree to tell reporters he has no chance of improving, it is somewhat disheartening as a fan to hear the same words year after year and yet to see no real change to the product on the field. Hopefully this is the season he finally proves the skeptics like myself wrong.