This is the first time in his four-year NFL career that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is actually going to start in a season opener. He was not in the starting lineup until late in his rookie season in 2015, then he began the 2016 season on the Physically Unable to Perform List. He also missed the 2017 opener due to injury, but played every other game.
And wouldn’t you know it, the Cleveland Browns are throwing him what is at least temporarily a no-win situation, as far as the fans are concerned. The AFC North rivals have opted to start rookie undrafted free agent Desmond Harrison as their new left tackle, replacing the retired Joe Thomas.
That means that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether or not Dupree does well in the game, at least when he rushes from the right side, which is what he is expected to be doing with his time, primarily. If he does poorly, then it will serve as immense confirmation bias for those who are convinced he is a bust, no matter how good Harrison turns out to be in the weeks to come.
Alternatively, even if he plays well, his performance will be disqualified from receiving accolades because of the quality of competition. Dupree could record three sacks against the left tackle making his NFL debut and the chorus would ring simply, ‘now do it against a real tackle’.
To be honest, the position is not entirely unfair. He is going up against a rookie who has never played in an NFL game before. Harrison even missed a lot of time in training camp due to a toe injury, yet he still somehow ended up in the starting lineup.
On paper, any first-round talent pass rusher should absolutely be able to have a good, if not very good day going up against a rookie undrafted free agent who has never played in a game before. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we can’t actually take away anything positive from the performance just because of who the tackle is.
The conversation about Dupree needing to have a big season this year has been absolutely beaten to death through more lives than your average cat at this point, so I’m not going to regurgitate the facts of the matter. Suffice it to say that this is in many ways a contract year for a player who has not necessarily lived up to his status yet.
Will better health and a shift to the right side make the difference? We’re not going to learn that from one game no matter who the tackle was across from him, even if it was Thomas. Hell, Jarvis Jones beat Thomas for a sack in the 2016 regular season finale.