Bud Dupree recorded 11.5 sacks in 2019, an enormous jump in sacks from the rest of his career. It stands out when you look at the number of games he was active each season of his career, and how many games he recorded at least half a sack.
Bud Dupree recorded a sack in just about 40% of games he played in before 2019. A big game in 2016 running down Tyrod Taylor in 2016 skews the sacks per game and per snap numbers for that season, but when you look at the number of games he recorded a sack the pattern stays consistent until 2019.
With a big jump in production in 2019, Bud Dupree enters Free Agency in a much better position, and for the Steelers, the big question is, will he continue to produce like he did in 2019, or can they replace him and get similar production from a cheaper option. To help analyze that question, let’s split pass rush into 2 categories, generating pressure, and converting pressure into sacks.
Pass rush doesn’t just result in sacks, more often pass rush disrupts the play by forcing a worse throw, an off-balance or early throw, or wrecking the pass play entirely with a throw away or scramble. Pressures tries to quantify that kind of pass rush, pressures counts the number of plays a QB is sacked, knocked down or hit as he throws (without a penalty), or hurried.
For this chart I’m using data from Sports Info Solutions, because they track the number of times a player rushed the QB and their currently free database goes back to 2016, so we can look at 4 years worth of numbers.
Here is Bud Dupree’s pass rushes and pressures for the last 4 years.
Bud Dupree creates pressure on roughly 10% of his pass rushes, that 10.1% of rushes in 2019 ranks 61st among players with 200+ pass rushes for the season. The Steelers had 4 players with 200+ pass rushes and at least a 10% pressure rate, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave. Stephon Tuitt was just under 9% for his time on the field.
Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave were behind Bud Dupree in pressure generation by only the most miniscule of gaps (if either had 1 more pass rush for a pressure they would rank ahead of Dupree) while playing on the interior defensive line, a position harder to generate pressures from. This means you could very easily rank Bud Dupree as the least valuable pressure generator of the 4 main pass rushers the Steelers had last season.
Looking at other edge rushers in 2019, it stands out that players with similar or better pressure rates ran a wide spectrum of players:
Justin Houston, who signed a 2019 2 year contract worth $24 million, after a better 2018 than Bud Dupree’s 2019.
Clay Matthews, who signed a 2 year, $9.25 million contract in 2019 and outperformed Bud Dupree in pressure generation.
Bruce Irvin, who signed a $4 million, 1 year deal in 2019.
Matt Judon, who is coming off his rookie deal in Baltimore.
Markus Golden, who signed a 1 year, $3.75 million deal for 2019.
Dante Fowler Jr, who was traded mid season in 2018 for a third and fifth round draft pick, and signed a 1 year, $12 million extension for 2019.
Preston Smith, who after a career similar to Bud’s first 4 seasons signed a 4 yr $52 million contract in 2019 and put up a 14% pressure rate for Green Bay.
If we look at how often Bud Dupree is putting pressure on the QB and not just total sacks, his rate of pressure generation is not hard to replace in Free Agency. Also a good number of recent non-first round draft picks were in the 9%+ range, so a rookie could fill in with some drop off and build from there for far less money than Dupree will cost.
Looking at pressure generation, Bud Dupree certainly shouldn’t be a priority, or a player that gets a big contract, as his pressure generation hasn’t been top 50 in the NFL at any point in his career, and his break out 2019 wasn’t due to an improvement in pressure generation at all.
But while Pressure generation might be the best measure of pure pass rushing ability, it isn’t the only factor. Because while pressure is important, and results in lower average gains for the offense, a sack is much better than a pressure.
While Bud Dupree’s pressure generation stayed stagnant in 2019, his sacks more than doubled. This results in a big leap in his rate of converting pressures into sacks. Dupree improved from a 13.8% conversion rate in 2018, and a 18.0% conversion rate for his career to a 24.0% conversion rate in 2019. This also reversed a three year decline in conversion rate from his ridiculous 37.5% rate in his shortened 2016 season.
This could be situational to the point of being luck, but if we look deeper into the numbers, Dupree shows a big tick up in his rate of QB hits in 2019 as well as sacks. With QB hits and sacks accounting for 84.4% of Dupree’s pressures, as opposed to 66.3% in 2019 and 67.4% for his career. So while he wasn’t getting pressure more than he did in the past, the pressures he was getting were increasingly because he was getting to the QB, not just interfering with the pocket.
In game film I would expect to see less of Dupree driving blockers into the pocket but not being able to get around them, and less of him getting pushed behind the QB, causing the QB to panic but not actually getting a hand on the QB. So while it is troubling that Dupree isn’t creating more pressure, it is a good sign that he is physically getting to the QB more, and not just close.
This is one of those times where stats point you to look at film, which is what the other parts of this series will do.
Pass rush isn’t the only job of the OLBs in the Steelers defense, they also defend the run and drop into coverage. Last year both Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt dropped into coverage far less than previous seasons, as their pass rush rate increased from below 80% in previous years to just above 90% in 2019. With Devin Bush, Ulysees Gilbert III and Mark Barron all currently on the roster I don’t expect the Steelers to go back to the days when they were covering for Vince Williams and Jon Bostic in coverage by dropping Dupree and Watt. So I’m not going to talk about coverage, it isn’t as big a deal as it used to be, Bud Dupree and TJ Watt’s limitations in coverage were solved by bringing in ILBs that can actually cover.
I’ve shown multiple times in the past that Bud Dupree’s side of the field is better at defending the run than TJ Watt’s side, and that continued in 2019. On Bud Dupree’s side of the field the Steelers allowed the 5th lowest yards per carry, while to TJ Watt’s side they allowed the 11th lowest.
Football Outsiders DVOA has the Steelers as the #1 run defense to the left end (defensive right, where Bud Dupree plays), and the 10th best on runs to the left tackle. The rank the Steelers the 6th best on runs to the right tackle and 29th to the left end. Dividing it up that way gives a little more insight, and you would expect to see film showing Dupree sealing off the outside runs or forcing them to be flatter runs to allow the Steelers’ athletic safeties and inside linebackers to chase down runners for little gain. This is another thing we will look at in the other parts of this series.
Looking at Dupree’s stats we see a more well-rounded edge defender, who still isn’t a great pass rusher, but may be becoming a more effective one than he has been in the past. In part 2 of this series we will take a look at a good number of his sacks from 2019, and see if his increased rate of converting pressures to contact with the QB is attributable to improved play, or if it is just a statistical anomaly unlikely to repeat.