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Rookie linebacker Bud Dupree making immediate impact for Steelers

Steelers rookie first-round pick Bud Dupree is off to a hot start. The outside linebacker has already registered three sacks through his first five NFL games.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers used the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to select outside linebacker Bud Dupree from the University of Kentucky. The rookie first rounder has impressed, registering three sacks through his first five NFL games.

Dupree played four years at Kentucky, where he registered 36 tackles for loss and 23.5 career sacks, including 7.5 sacks in his senior season. At 6' 4", 270 lbs., Dupree has tremendous size, but he's also a freakish athlete. The 22-year-old stole the show at the NFL Combine in February, where he posted a ridiculous 42-inch vertical leap, 138-inch broad jump, and a 4.56 40-yard dash.

Dupree's college production, along with his size, athleticism and explosiveness, made him an attractive option for General Manager Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Given the unexpected retirement of former outside linebacker Jason Worilds following the 2014 season, selecting Dupree would also allow Colbert and Tomlin to fill a position of need.

As luck would have it, Dupree, considered a top-10 talent by many scouts, fell to No. 22 on draft night, and Pittsburgh wasted no time snatching him up.

In former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau's complex zone-blitz scheme, rookies rarely made an immediate impact, and usually went through a red shirt year or two before seeing significant snaps. This was often a point of contention for Steelers fans, who watched rookies on other defenses making contributions for their respective teams.

It begged the question, given all of the roster turnover in recent years, why Pittsburgh refused to simplify its defense.

Enter Keith Butler, the long time Steelers linebackers coach, who was promoted to defensive coordinator this past offseason. In Butler's defense, Dupree, who many pundits and draft scouts thought would be a long-term project, is already averaging 36.2 defensive snaps per game through the first five weeks of his rookie season.

After two underwhelming performances in the first two games of the preseason, Dupree got his first sack at Heinz Field against the Green Bay Packers. Dupree would have had two sacks in the preseason game against Green Bay, were his first not negated by a penalty.

With the Steelers trailing by a touchdown late in the third quarter, Dupree lines up at left outside linebacker on the strong side of the formation. The Packers third-string offense is facing a first-and-ten, pinned deep in its own territory.

At the snap, Green Bay rookie tight end Kennard Backman releases into the flat, leaving Dupree with a free path to rookie quarterback Brett Hundley. Dupree doesn't bite on the play action fake and sacks Hundley for a nine-yard loss.

Dupree's first sack of the regular season came in Week 1 against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. That sack, which isn't shown in this article, was similar to his sack of Hundley in that he was not blocked on the play.

Dupree saw a season-high 51 snaps against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.

Here, the 49ers, trailing 29-3 early in the fourth quarter, are facing a critical third-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Dupree lines up at left outside linebacker. At the snap, he uses an explosive first step to blow past right tackle Erik Pears. Pears can't even get a hand on Dupree, who sacks quarterback Colin Kaepernick for a three-yard loss.

Dupree recorded his third sack of the season in front of a national audience against the San Diego Chargers on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

On this play, the Chargers offense, clinging to a 7-3 lead midway through the third quarter, is facing a second-and-eight from its own 16-yard line. Dupree lines up a left outside linebacker, and once again, uses a quick first step to beat the tackle around the edge. Dupree takes a wider arc on this play, and uses his strength to fight through a hold and bring down quarterback Philip Rivers from behind for a four-yard loss.

Butler has made a concerted effort to apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and, as Tomlin likes to say, the proof is in the pudding. Through five weeks, Pittsburgh's defense ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks with 16.0.

The sky is the limit for Dupree, and if the young linebacker continues to see more snaps, he'll have a chance to reach double-digit sacks by the end of the regular season.