For many Steelers fans (including myself), the dream of having former first-round pick Bud Dupree return to Pittsburgh has vanished.
It was reported Friday morning that Dupree has agreed to terms with the Atlanta Falcons on a one-year deal worth up to $5 million, giving Dupree a chance to earn a starting job while being able to recoup his value in 2023 with another potential bite at the apple next offseason. That wouldn’t have been the case in Pittsburgh. It was reported by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the Steelers were indeed interested in signing Dupree, but likely wanted him to commit to a two-year deal and a role that would have relegated him to a rotational/backup role behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
With the ship sailed on a reunion with Dupree, the Steelers are now two weeks away from the start of the 2023 NFL Draft. While it is still possible that Pittsburgh may add another name to the OLB room via free agency before then, it likely wouldn’t be a name that would more the needle much in terms of quality depth.
Instead, things are lining up perfectly for Pittsburgh to address its need for quality EDGE depth in the draft and do so fairly early. GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl have been busy men this offseason, bringing in several outside FA additions while re-signing some of their own to fill out many of the needs on this roster. The team appears ready to take CB and OT early with likely its top two selections, but Pittsburgh has signed and brought back notable contributors at S, ILB, DL, and OG to minimize the need to take those respective positions early unless a phenomenal value falls into their lap.
The OLB position is another story. The team just released backup Jamir Jones in a surprise move and are out on the Dupree sweepstakes, leaving Quincy Roche as the only notable name behind the two starters. We have seen the hit this defense can take when losing a player like T.J. Watt for a period of time last season. While no one can make up his production on the field should he have to miss time, adding a young, talented pass rusher into the fold would be a wise investment to keep Watt and Highsmith fresh, protect Pittsburgh in-case of injury, and act as insurance as Highsmith enters a contact year.
The 2023 EDGE class is one of the deepest positions in the draft, having over a dozen guys that warrant top three-round grades. Will Anderson Jr. and Tyree Wilson may be the headliners that will go early, but players like Felix Anudike-Uzomah, B.J. Ojulari, Derick Hall, Will McDonald IV, and Isaiah Foskey all figure to go in that 30 to 50 range of the draft with several names likely to get pushed down due to the sheer number of talented players at the position.
This sets up for Pittsburgh, which has four picks in the top 80, including two second-round selections. Should the Steelers go OT and CB with their first two picks, they still will be looking at a talented pass rusher at #49 overall in the second round if they choose to go that route. They may stick to addressing OL or DL with that pick, but even #80 overall should have a name or two there providing great value as OLBs get pushed down the board with teams focusing on taking other roster needs.
The Steelers have done a good job this offseason at filling their needs on the roster with veteran options to allow themselves more flexibility to truly take the best players available on their board. Given the strength of this draft class at EDGE, that may likely be a OLB with one of their second-round picks or possibly their third-round selection. The need is there with no real depth behind Watt and Highsmith, making a perfect pairing of need and value intersecting somewhere on Day Two. In the end, Pittsburgh opting to not bring back Dupree looks to be the right move as the Steelers can pass on an older, oft-injured veteran for a young, promising option on a cost-effective rookie contract that they can groom for years to come.