It has been a couple weeks since we looked in-depth at the development of rookie Bud Dupree, particularly as a pass rusher. The Kentucky product has been as steady a part of the rotation at outside linebacker as any of his positional counterparts, playing 257 (52.4%) of 490 defensive snaps this season, second only to James Harrison at his position.
As a very raw prospect entering the NFL, it is definitely encouraging to see Dupree developing as a pass rusher, even if he hasn’t gotten home consistently. In fact, none of Dupree’s three sacks this season were very impressive from a skill standpoint, but he is actively creating pressure in a variety of ways that don’t get recorded on the stat sheet.
Before I get into his evolving pass-rush tools, I want to highlight the increased awareness Dupree is showing on the football field. His read-and-diagnose ability was one of his biggest weaknesses pre-draft, and while it is still a work-in-progress, Dupree is recognizing situational football and offensive tendencies much better than he was at the beginning of the season.
Steelers send pressure with a safety blitz off the edge here, meaning Alex Smith is looking to get the ball out hot before the unblocked Mike Mitchell reaches him.
Three step drop and fire, but Dupree knows the pass is coming quickly, and is able to get his hand into the passing lane to force the incompletion. Great heads up play on 2nd-and-ten to force Kansas City into a 3rd-and-long situation.
As a pass rusher Dupree is still trying to win the edge the vast majority of the time, but you’re starting to see him attempt to set up offensive tackles for failure. Every single one of his first half pass rushes saw Dupree attempt to bend the corner to the quarterback, and all of them were unsuccessful. But in the second half Dupree began to sprinkle more variety into his efforts, attempting to catch Chiefs right tackle Jeff Allen oversetting and win inside.
Allen sets several steps to his right, hoping to cut off Dupree rushing from a seven-technique. Recognizing the vacated space inside and the athletic advantage he has over the offensive lineman, Dupree counters inside quickly, moving laterally to get a hand in Smith’s face as steps into his throw. Doesn’t register on the stat sheet, but Dupree’s ability to mix it up as a pass rusher and not rely solely on gaining the edge to be effective has a big impact on how offensive linemen will regard him off the snap.
There were a couple times that Dupree set up linemen during the game, and while he needs to be more sudden and decisive in his movements, as well as stay active with his upper half, you can see the increased effectiveness of his growing skill set off the edge. Couple that with his developing mental acumen and a much better motor than what he showed in college, and really there has been very little drop-off in play from Arthur Moats to Dupree. Moats will never have Dupree’s athletic gifts, but he does have the power and tenacity at the point-of-attack that the rookie needs to utilize much more often.
There are several things Dupree needs to improve on still, the biggest of which is converting speed-to-power. You’ll hear draftniks talk a lot about this trait, which in laymen’s terms basically means, can you convert your quickness off the line of scrimmage into inflicting a power move upon your blocker. Typically that is a bull-rush, but Harrison often converts his burst into a powerful rip move to ward off the tackle’s punch and gain the edge.
Anticipating an interior blitz, the Chiefs protection pinches down, leaving Dupree one-on-one against Travis Kelce on the edge with plenty of space to work with. Game over right?
It should be, but Dupree elects to hand-fight Kelce, rather than simply overpower him. While it is nice to see Dupree utilizing his hands, this is a prime opportunity to work into the frame of an inexperienced pass protector and get him off-balance. Dupree isn’t lacking strength, he just doesn’t utilize the power he has at his disposal often enough. If he can learn to convert his first step explosiveness into winning with leverage and strength more consistently, he’ll open up a whole world of possibilities for himself as a pass rusher.
Here’s an example of Dupree utilizing that raw power just a play later against Kelce as a run defender.
Great burst off the snap, then uses his length and strength to toss Kelce aside and make the tackle-for-loss. That’s the kind of nasty, physical edge Dupree should bring to every snap.
Once blockers have to respect his speed-to-power, they’ll be forced to stop oversetting to keep Dupree from winning the edge every snap. As we’ve talked about before, Dupree has the first step, but not the bend to turn the corner with regularity, so his pass rush game is in desperate need of variety to keep offensive linemen from playing to the edge constantly. We’re already seeing baby steps in the right direction as his repertoire grows, which is a great sign for the chances of Dupree reaching his high ceiling sooner rather than later.