The 2019-2020 NFL season is officially in the books and that means that the league has now officially entered offseason mode. For the Pittsburgh Steelers that means taking care of some in house business with Bud Dupree’s contract status being the number one priority this offseason.
Dupree is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and while the Steelers have a few options on how to retain him, the outside linebacker is still going to be due for a hefty pay raise this spring. The fifth-year outside linebacker is going to spend a lot of time at the negotiating table this offseason and in case he needs a portfolio, I have put together a compilation of his best work from last season.
What a year it was for Dupree as he set career highs in more than one category. He crossed double digits in sacks for the first time in his career with 11.5, while also setting new career highs in quarterback hits (17), tackles for a loss (16) and forced fumbles (4). Dupree became just the fifth player in franchise history to record at least 10 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss in a season.
Dupree’s numbers are not the only thing that jump out when analyzing his performance during the 2019 season. His tape also reveals a player that has evolved into a talented pass rusher with a multitude of moves in his pass rushing arsenal.
Not too long ago, the Steelers’ outside linebacker could be described as a player that mostly won based off his athleticism and effort. That is no longer the case as Dupree has grown sustainably since then and he showed off many moves and techniques that the Steelers have not seen from him before.
Pass rushers cannot succeed without a plan. They need to know how to attack their offensive line counterparts with leverage, speed, power or all of the above. While no one will ignore the physical aspect of competing in the trenches, the mental aspect of these one on one reps are just as important. An edge rusher going up against an offensive tackle is a game of chess as much as it is a fight. Dupree was excellent this year in this regard as he frequently showed that he had a plan on how to attack opposing tackles.
Starting with perhaps what was Dupree’s flashiest sack of the 2019 season. Up against Cleveland Browns tackle Justin McCray, Dupree waits for him to reach outside before spinning inside for an inside release. The Steelers’ edge rusher explodes off the snap and looks as if he is going to try to beat McCray around the edge but once he tries to engage, Dupree counters with a spin inside. That is what having a plan is all about as the fifth year outside linebacker says checkmate.
That was not the only time this season that Dupree showed that he had a plan for how to control and counter opposing tackles. He once again showed an excellent understanding on how to use leverage to win inside against the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets.
Watch how Dupree long arms Trent Scott on the play above as he shows off some impressive power as he knocks the Chargers left tackle off balance. This also gives the Steelers pass rusher the leverage and space needed to set up his inside spin move which is just a split second too late from getting home. Again, this is not something that happened quite often, if at all during his first few seasons but Dupree really improved as a pass rusher not only physically but mentally this season.
Now sometimes plan A doesn’t always work but Dupree shows the intelligence to adjust quickly on the fly, which is what he did on the above play as he beats Jets’ tackle Kelvin Beachum for the sack. Beachum does a good job initially getting his hands on the Steelers’ outside linebacker but Dupree is once again able to counter and spin away for the sack.
There is not a spin move involved on the play below but here is another example of Dupree demonstrating his understanding on how to set up tackles to his liking in order to beat them. This play comes against Indianapolis Colts’ tackle Anthony Costanzo who is a highly talented tackle but Dupree eats him like baby food on the play below. He sets up Costanzo with a nice power rush, using his hands to set him a yard or two back before beating him around the edge. The initial shove knocks Costanzo off balance and gives Dupree an easy win around the edge.
Now onto the physical aspect of Dupree’s game. While he progressed mentally as a pass rusher this season, he also smashed the glass ceiling on his athleticism this season as well. Dupree always came equipped with all the athleticism in the world but the jury remained out if he would be able to translate that into bending around the edge.
Well, he silenced the jury and critics this season as the Steelers’ pass rusher really proved that not only could he bend around the edge but that he could do it quite consistently too.
Perhaps the earliest sign that the Steelers’ fifth year outside linebacker was going to be in for a big year came during week four against the Cincinnati Bengals. Dupree was matched up across from Andre Smith and he just completely fools him. He gets it started with a very explosive burst off the line of scrimmage and he finishes the job by getting under the outside arm of Smith, bending the corner for an impressive strip sack.
Here is Dupree doing another good job at bending the corner by beating Costanzo around the corner for another strip sack. Plays like these may have seemed foreign when watching the first four years of Dupree’s tape but he really flashed great bend around the edge consistently during year five.
There is just over a month to go until the new league year officially begins and free agency kick offs. Dupree is one player who will see a pay raise heading into 2020 though whether that increase comes via the franchise tag or a long-term contract remains to be seen. Still, Dupree will have earned every single penny of what he is paid this offseason. No longer is he just the athletic pass rusher who could not put it all together. He is now the pass rusher that the Steelers envisioned him being when they took him in the first round five years ago and his 2019 season is living proof of that.