There was once a time in the NFL in which teams could afford to be patient with young players and put them in positions where they would have the opportunity to grow without being thrown into the fire. That era has largely been left in the past, and high-pedigreed players who do not produce early are often abandoned—traded, released—rather than nurtured.
To the chagrin of many fans, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not such a team. They pretty much always give their young players the opportunity to grow, even if they are increasingly asking them to contribute early, but it’s rare that a high draft pick does not complete his rookie contract here due to production issues relative to his pedigree.
Bud Dupree would be the greatest case in point. Through his first four years, he struggled to put up big numbers, even if his play was often better than what his stat line would suggest. Since the start of the 2019 season, however, many have seen a different player, and through five games, he is leading the team in sacks with five.
Those who have been around him throughout his career have seen his progression over time. Cameron Heyward has been around him the most and for the longest period of time—he also happens to play right next to him.
“I always knew Bud was a special athlete. But I think you have to grow into a great player, which he is”, he told reporters earlier today, from video provided by the team’s media department. “I felt like every year, he’s continued to get better, and I just think he’s become a complete player”.
“When you first get into the league, you’re still learning—learning the defense, learning where you thrive, where you need to get better”, he added. “And I think it just comes with your due diligence in trying to get better. I can tell you the last four years, I’ve seen Bud grow exponentially, just because of his hard work and his discipline”.
Dupree is on pace to have his best pass-rushing season of his career to date, not just in terms of sack numbers, but with respect to overall pressures, hits on the quarterback, and even his win rate off the line. He is most consistently winning against tackles than he has in the past.
And he has also continued his great run defense. It does seem as though he has developed into a complete player, including in coverage as well. And I think having T.J. Watt on the other side of him to really push him and set the tone has been important as well.
That’s not to say that he isn’t a self-motivated person. He has always wanted to be great. But when you have the measuring stick out there constantly in front of your face, you know you can never let up. And he hasn’t.