PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers finished with their fewest sacks in a quarter-century when they registered just 33 in 2014. If they're being honest, they may struggle to surpass that total next season. But 2016 and beyond? Well, that could be a different story.
That’s not to suggest that Alvin "Bud" Dupree was a bad pick, it isn't. Or to say that he won't some day be the strong edge rusher that the Steelers so badly coveted in this year's draft. But if recent Steelers draft history is any indication, it might be some time before Dupree, the defensive end-turned outside linebacker from Kentucky who the Steelers selected with the 22nd overall pick in Thursday's NFL draft, is that sort of impact player.
It's Dupree's upside though that makes him so intriguing. Dupree's size -- 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds -- has never been in question. Neither has been his athleticism, he ran an impressive 4.56 in the 40 at the combine. And by almost all accounts, Dupree's character --- so sorely lacking in a handful of players whose names were called, and a few whose weren't at Roosevelt University in Chicago on Thursday --- is beyond reproach.
However, there are legitimate questions about Dupree's ability to stop the run and his ability to diagnose the play, two things which, you know, are kind of important. Dupree can be a situational pass rusher in year one but more should be expected of a first-rounder.
Yet with Dupree you keep coming back to that size and that raw talent, the measurables. He had 23.5 sacks in four seasons at Kentucky, 7.5 sacks last season and was considered one of the top edge rushers available. Many mock drafts had Dupree going in the top 10 and GM Kevin Colbert claims the Steelers had him much higher on the Steelers' board. It's hard to pass up on that.
"Certainly a good pass rusher with mixed power and speed, and he can cover," Colbert said. "It was real exciting that he was able to be there for us at 22. Quite honestly, that was something we didn’t expect to happen."
But Dupree wasn't the sexy pick, was he? He wasn't Shane Ray or Randy Gregory or some other malcontent in this year's draft class. The Steelers just don't do sexy. He wasn't the cornerback -- that they'll still have to address in today's second and third round -- either.
Dupree makes it three straight years of linebackers taken in the first round after fellow "impact" players Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones. Obviously injuries have played a large part, but Jones and Shazier have yet to live up to their pedigrees.
When Jason Worilds turned a new leaf on life, the Steelers -- if they weren't already -- were left with a glaring need. The Steelers believe they have found their new starting left outside linebacker of the future in Dupree but, like with Jones on the right side, that is still to be determined.
Dupree joins a cast that should include Jones, Arthur Moats and James Harrison, who turns 37 on Monday. Having Keith Butler, a former linebackers coach, as defensive coordinator should help Dupree as will having Harrison, who was brought back to mentor this pick, around.
Now, that outside linebacker corps is not going to blow anyone away but at least two of the pieces for the future are in place with Jones and now Dupree.
With Troy Polamalu gone and Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel, too, the Steelers are turning the page on the past. With a cornerback or two on the way, the Steelers can dream of a dominating defense again. Whether that is next year, though, might be a little too optimistic.
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