Bud Dupree recorded 20 sacks in his first 4 seasons, while starting 39 games. His rookie season he was active for all 16 games, but only started 5 and recorded 4 sacks. in 2016 Dupree recorded 4.5 sacks despite only playing in 7 games and on a limited snap count. In 2017 he became a full time starter, pairing with TJ Watt and recording 6 sacks. 2018 saw Dupree moved to the right side of the defense, and saw a drop to 5.5 sacks. Then in 2019 Dupree put up 11.5 sacks, just in time to negotiate for a big contact.
The Steelers have seen this before. In 1996 Chad Brown recorded 13 sacks in a contract season, departed for Seattle on a big contract but would never record double digit sacks again.
Chad Brown was drafted out of Colorado in 1993, off of a Buffalo’s team that was heavily mined by Bill Cowher. Cowher drafted 5 Colorado Buffaloes in the top 3 rounds in his first 4 drafts; Joel Steed (3rd round, 1992), Deon Figures (1st round, 1993), Chad Brown (2nd round, 1993), Charles Johnson (1st round, 1994) and Kordell Stewart (2nd round, 1995).
Chad Brown was a 4-3 outside LB in college, and he played inside LB for the Steelers next to Levon Kirkland. Brown’s athleticism and pass rushing instinct was a big part of the pass rush though, with Brown recording 17 sacks in 35 starts over his first three seasons. When Greg Lloyd was lost for the season in the first game of the 1996 season, Chad Brown moved outside to fill his position and put up 13 sacks. Brown also recorded 2 interceptions in LeBeau’s zone blitz defense that required OLBs to both rush and play in coverage.
While it is tempting to simply write off the comparison as invalid because of the position change and view Chad Brown as an elite pass rusher who had been playing out of position, there is far more to the comparison than just numbers.
Chad Brown was an incredible athlete for a LB, and he used that athleticism in coverage, tracking down ball carriers for tackles and in his pass rush. One thing Chad Brown wasn’t, was a skilled technical rusher. Chad Brown got a lot of sacks off scheme, speed, strength and hustle.
Bud Dupree is a similar style of player, he’s an elite athlete that lacked great technique in his pass rush, and a bit similar to Chad Brown in the fact that Dupree has frequently been used in coverage. Dupree has credited his production this season to the Steelers letting him play his game, rushing more and dropping into coverage less.
Chad Brown signed a big contract with the Seattle Seahawks, and would play in a 4-3 defense that still rushed him a good bit, but used him more as a versatile LB than a dedicated rusher. Brown would average only 6.6 sacks the next 5 seasons, but would also average 71.2 tackles and 5 passes defended as a really good 4-3 LB. We can wonder if he could have replicated that incredible 1996 season if he stayed in Pittsburgh as an OLB, but we can also look at how the Steelers and Seahawks valued him and what film is available of him and judge that he wasn’t really a long term solution at OLB, because he wasn’t a great pass rusher.
A similar dilemma exists today. Is Bud Dupree an athletically gifted player who benefited from a great scheme and the talent around him, or is he a player that drives the defense with his ability to pressure the QB? Because if he’s just a decent edge defender with terrific athleticism that was in the right situation, then he is replaceable, and not worth what he will likely get paid. If he isn’t a one year anomaly, but has turned a corner and become a legit pass rusher, then the Steelers should pay him and keep him.
There’s been a lot of talk about Dupree’s sacks, and while we’d love to get double digit sacks from both OLBs again, the Steelers certainly don’t want to pay a guy for production that was more a product of the team than his own ability. Just like the Steelers weren’t going to pay Chad Brown top pass rusher money when he was really an ILB that had one crazy year as a pass rushing OLB.
What do you think Steeler nation? Is Bud Dupree now a top pass rusher, or is he just another guy that the Steelers can replace for much less cost? Should they risk him being a Pro Bowl pass rusher with another team or lock him up and hope he can keep producing at this level?