It’s been pretty clear for some time that Pro Football Focus have never been the biggest fans of Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree. They didn’t even like him when he came out of college, and this offseason, despite putting up borderline Pro Bowl numbers, the site has argued that the team should not under any circumstances re-sign him as he appears set for a substantial windfall as a first-team unrestricted free agent.
In spite of their ample reservations about the quality of his play and how that translates into deserved financial compensation, they nevertheless selected the five-year veteran as the most-improved player on the Steelers’ roster for the 2019 season. Really, I suppose, he would be the obvious choice anyway.
Dupree was very close to earning the bust label, filed under the category of great athlete that never really figured things out as a pass-rusher. Through the first four seasons of his career, he earned pass-rushing grades of 49.3, 59.9, 60.8 and 61.0. His pass-rush win rate was below 10% on over 1,000 pass-rushing snaps, not a spot that you want to be as a starting edge defender. However, that changed in 2019. Dupree’s pass-rush grade rose to 76.3, and his run-defense grade of 75.0 was 10 points higher than any previous season in his career. He still didn’t get pressure as consistently as you would like him to, but the splash plays — sacks and forced fumbles — came in at career-high marks. The timing couldn’t have been better for Dupree, as he’ll look to cash in on that spike in production as a free agent this offseason.
Dupree had 20 career sacks and three career forced fumbles over the course of his first four seasons. He never had more than six sacks or two forced fumbles in a single year. During the 2019 season, he put up 11.5 sacks and forced four fumbles. He recovered two of them himself. He only had two takeaways in his career prior to this past season, with one prior fumble recovery and an interception that he returned 10 yards for a touchdown.
The 2015 first-round draft pick also took his run defense to a new level, and that is reflected in his raising his career-highs for total tackles and tackles for loss. He had 68 total tackles and 16 for a loss this past year. His previous highs are 42 and 12.
Other than the material results, the biggest difference for Dupree this past season had been the fact that he was pretty much healthy for the entire year. He dealt with some injury of significance in each of the past three years.
He paired with Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt in 2019 to put up one of the greatest seasons by a pass-rushing duo in team history, the two combining for 26 total sacks and 12 forced fumbles. The Steelers would very much like to keep them together for 2020, and potentially beyond, though their focus currently is on the immediate.