When people saw an undersized defensive end on the board connected to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they got excited about the team adding outside linebacker depth. But the ultimate fate—or rather position—of Northern Illinois’ Sutton Smith is yet to be determined, as defensive coordinator Keith Butler made clear in discussing the pick after he was made.
As that reality sunk in, the beat writers asked Butler if he was concerned about the team’s depth at outside linebacker. He wasn’t.
“No, because I like [Bud Dupree]. Everyone is questioning Bud, but I think Bud is going to be a good football player”, the veteran defensive coordinator told reporters. “There is some minute stuff that we need to correct on him”, he admitted.
Dupree was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick back in 2015, beginning his career getting a sizable number of snaps in a rotation on the left side along with Arthur Moats. He started the final four games of his rookie season and finished that year with four sacks.
His sophomore season, his first in which he was supposed to be a full-time starter, did not go as planned, as he was sidelined with a sports hernia injury that saw him spend the majority of the season on Injured Reserve. But he seemed to flash late, racking up four and a half sacks over the final four games of the regular season.
He has only missed one game over the past two years and played in 31 straight, but has only added 11 and a half sacks over that time, nearly evenly split between 2017 and 2018. He enters the 2019 season set to play on his fifth-year option worth north of $9 million.
2018, though, was arguably his best and most complete season, posting career-highs with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and his first career interception, which he returned 10 yards for a touchdown. He also had a forced fumble, the second of his career.
The Steelers have been working with Dupree for four years and waiting for the “minute stuff” to come together and coalesce into him becoming a strong starter, something that has yet to happen during that time, yet which we have seen develop with T.J. Watt, drafted in the first round two years later.
The question about the future of the outside linebacker position really relies upon how the Steelers view Dupree going forward, and that will have a lot to do with what Dupree does this year. Many are assuming that he will be gone after the 2019 season, as with prior first-round pick Jarvis Jones, who did not have his fifth-year option picked up, but that isn’t necessarily guaranteed.