Football is ultimately a team sport. A wide receiver cannot thrive without a quarterback throwing him the ball. A running back will struggle if an offensive line cannot maintain their blocks. The 11 players on the field are all interconnected in some way.
With such a variety of players on the field, it’s difficult to put 11 players on the field at one time who all have equal success at their given positions. No matter what, a team will have strengths and weaknesses with every personnel package. The most important thing is to play to one strengths and cover the weaknesses. Or, even better, have said weaknesses being only relative to the quality of the rest of the team and not a glaring problem.
Enter Bud Dupree.
A case could be made Dupree was the weakest player on the Steelers’ defensive front in 2019. Whether he ultimately was or not is beside the point as his play did not come anywhere close to being an area of concern. In fact, Dupree put up the best numbers of his five-year career.
So where did the jump in production come from? Did Dupree play at a higher level in 2019 than his previous seasons, or was it a result of other factors? Chances are the answer is a combination of things, but it is difficult to deny that Dupree was the benefactor of a fantastic Steelers defensive front.
In fact, I would say Dupree has the best situation of any edge rusher in the NFL.
The reason Dupree is in such a situation for success is a twofold scenario which no other player in the NFL can claim.
He is playing opposite of the best edge rusher in the NFL in 2019
It would be difficult to argue otherwise that T.J. Watt has become the best player at his position in the NFL. In fact, a strong case can be made T.J. Watt may be the best defender in the NFL based on his 2019 season. Although he did not ultimately win defensive player of the year, the statistics of Stephon Gilmore and his questionable play at the end of the season turned the DPOY more into a popularity contest rather than on-field production.
With such a dynamic play maker on the opposite edge, Dupree is the less likely candidate to deal with a tight end chipping him during his pass rush. If anyone is going to command some help, it’s going to be the right tackle as he takes on the league‘s best edge defender. With so much of the focus going on T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree gets a better matchup the majority of the time.
He is playing next to the second best defensive interior lineman in the NFL
Not only is Dupree benefiting from T.J. Watt rushing the edge on the other side of the defense, he also is paired with the definitive second best defensive interior linemen in the NFL. Next to the Rams’ Aaron Donald, Cameron Hayward is at the top of the list for defensive interior linemen play in 2019. With Donald and Heyward taking the two All-Pro spots for the interior defensive line across the board with the various places who select an All-Pro team, it’s hard to argue that they are not the two best players at their position. With Donald getting the nod according to PFF to be just ahead of Heyward, calling Cam the second-best player in the league at his position is a pretty safe bet.
How does this benefit Dupre? The majority of the time, Heyward is lined up on the same side of the defense as Dupree. With such a dynamic player on the defensive line, if a double team is going to be emphasized toward one player or another, Heyward is going to draw it the majority of the time.
Does cam Heyward demand a double team? Just ask All-Pro guard Quinton Nelson from the Indianapolis Colts. During their matchup in Week 9 of 2019, Heyward made Nelson look like a less-than-average player in the NFL.
One of the benefits from playing opposite of T.J. Watt and next to Can Heyward is getting a one-on-one matchup for the majority of snaps. With formations set to account for Watt and offensive linemen having to focus on Heyward, Dupree gets to focus on defeating a single blocker in a lot of cases.
Being in the best situation of any edge rusher in the NFL is not a cut on Bud Dupree. Does it mean any player could produce in the same manner? Does it mean Dupree would not be as successful somewhere else? Although these could be true, they are not necessarily the case.
Ultimately, Dupree was in a great situation in 2019 and looks to maintain the same benefit for 2020. Hopefully he can continue to improve at the position and help the Steelers have one of the best defensive fronts in all of the NFL.