Well over a year ago the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they were picking up the fifth-year option of outside linebacker Bud Dupree for the 2019 season and this past March that $9.232 million salary became fully guaranteed. With the Steelers former first-round draft pick now guaranteed to earn over $9 million in 2019, he’ll be expected to have a career year and then some. At some point following one of the Steelers 2019 OTA practices this week, Dupree promised to live up to those high expectations.
“This is going to be the best year I’ve played in the NFL,” Dupree said, according to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “For a contract season coming up, it’s going to be a big year as well.”
While Dupree registered just 5.5 sacks last season after registering 6 during the 2017, he has said more than a few times this offseason that he just missed out on having several more due to either holding calls, or near misses. In fact, he said on Thursday that he’s estimated that he got denied 6 sacks last season due to the aforementioned reasons. Much like what Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt said recently, Dupree indicated Thursday that he needs to finish better to secure those extra sacks.
“The plays were definitely there,” Dupree said, according to Ruttter. “I’ve just got to finish them. … Things like that happen, and I have to get over it.”
Dupree was also quoted saying something similar to that just last week as well.
“I had a big opportunity last year to be in the conversation and I didn’t close the plays,” Dupree said last week, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m always in position. The plays are always there; it’s on me to finish those plays and easily have double-digit sacks. I’m trying to go out and reboot and finish those plays this season.”
Upon entering the NFL as a 2015 first-round draft pick out of Kentucky, Dupree mainly played on the left side of the Steelers defense during his first three seasons in Pittsburgh. Last season, however, he was switched to the right side with fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt flipping over to the left. Now that Dupree has one full season of rushing from the right side under his belt, he firmly believes his familiarity with doing so will pay dividends for him in 2019.
“At Kentucky, I swapped a little bit, but my go-to side was on the left,” Dupree said. “Now, if I go on the other side, it feels foreign. It’s good for both of us.”
While Dupree has still yet to master a primary pass rush move in his first four seasons in the NFL, he still has a very quick get-off, just as he did at Kentucky. Last week, in fact, Watt somewhat referenced that great get-off of Dupree’s during one of his post-practice media sessions.
“Have you seen Bud’s legs? I mean, you’ve seen my legs, Bud’s legs are like tree trunks,” Watt said. “He can accelerate so fast. His power is there and he can drop in coverage and just cover so much ground in like one or two steps. It’s like Giannis [Antetokounmpo] in basketball. It’s crazy.”
The Steelers have already been characterized as being crazy for paying Dupree over $9 million in 2019 by a large selection of the fan base and if he ultimately fails to have a career season, those characterizations will be justified. However, somewhat in the outside linebacker’s defense, he has dealt with a few injuries, some worse than others, in two of the last three seasons. He did, however play in all 16 games last season despite being on the weekly injury report three different weeks due to illness, knee or pectoral issues.
If Dupree and Watt can somehow both manage hit double-digit sack numbers in 2019, with at least a half a dozen strips of the football resulting in turnovers included in those, it would be something we haven’t seen two outside linebackers do in Pittsburgh since 2010 when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley accomplished that feat. That season, Harrison had 10.5 sacks and Woodley had 10 and the two also forced 9 total fumbles that season with several coming via sacks. And, oh yeah, the Steelers also went to the Super Bowl that season.
A double-digit sack season in 2019 for Dupree would also force the Steelers to make another tough decision next offseason as they would need to decide if they want to franchise or transition their former first-round draft pick to prevent him from hitting free agency. Keep your fingers crossed that Dupree follows through with his career-year promise as him doing so will help all parties involved. Here’s to a 2019 season with a lot less misses for Dupree.