It was a long offseason process, but by draft day the notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers would take a cornerback in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time in nearly 20 years seemed absolutely ubiquitous, with seemingly every available mock draft having them land either Kevin Johnson, Marcus Peters, or Byron Jones.
Instead, they came away with their third linebacker in the first round in the past three draft, and their second outside linebacker in that same span, after previously drafting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones 17th overall in 2013, followed by inside linebacker Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall selection in 2014.
Yesterday, the Steelers were the welcome recipient of a generous draft day slide as pass rusher Bud Dupree became available at Pittsburgh’s 22nd overall slot, a prospect that many regarded at a top 10 talent and most predicted would land in the teens.
And it was quite a fortunate slide as well, as after the first 10 selections were called in, and the first cornerback went off the board with the next pick, the late teens saw both Johnson and Peters come off the board.
The Steelers had the opportunity to take Jones, but like Darqueze Dennard last season, they chose to pass on the last of the top cornerback prospects, instead opting for Dupree, who is comparably gifted athletically for his position as is the aforementioned cornerback.
I will admit, and I suspect that most will, that when Johnson came off the board at 16, I began to become worried, and after Peters was gone just two selections later, it seemed that the pre-draft narrative of improving the secondary was quickly eroding.
But the sudden realization of Dupree creeping closer and closer to the Steelers’ slot helped to restore my rational faculties as I concluded that the team had a chance at a higher caliber outside linebacker than I projected to be likely.
I do believe that Dupree saved the Steelers in the first round of this draft, because, barring somebody else surprisingly sliding that far, it would have surely been regarded as a massive disappointment not to come away with one of the top cornerbacks, with Jones, and even Eric Rowe, regarded as one that borderline.
While I myself may have preferred Peters—even over Johnson, who may be more of a scheme fit but lacks the former’s physicality and tackling ability against the run—the idea of Dupree being available seemed so unlikely to me that I failed to seriously consider it and weight its relative value.
According to Gerry Dulac, the Steelers would have taken Dupree over Peters if they were in the position to do so, which is not surprising given his character concerns, which the front office certainly tends to avoid.
I would have expected him to have been off their board entirely had they not shown him so much attention prior to the draft, to the point where I felt that he would be the name called at the 22nd spot. But the truth is that Dupree is more than a consolation prize.