In hindsight, General Manager Kevin Colbert tipped the Steelers’ hand some 72 hours before the draft. With the emphasis on upgrading the team’s defense, specifically the team’s defense when the football is in the air, Colbert had been asked to assess the talent pool from which the team would be picking starting on Thursday night.
“I think the cornerback group is good,” said Colbert. “The outside linebacker types, which for us is a 4-3 defensive end for some 4-3 teams, this is probably as good a group at that position as I’ve seen in 10-15 years. It’s really an exceptional group with a lot of impact-type guys.”
And as the picking unfolded, the exceptional group with a lot of impact-type guys largely was being ignored. Dante Fowler Jr. went to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the third overall selection, and Vic Beasley was made the eighth overall selection by the pass-rush starved Atlanta Falcons. Then, nothing.
Two of the exceptions – just based on recent draft history – were Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, who became the first running backs to be picked on the first round since 2012, when Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and David Wilson all were among the first 32 players selected. Gurley went to the St. Louis Rams at No. 10, and the San Diego Chargers traded up from No. 17 to No. 15 for Gordon.
The movement of the two running backs into the top 20 picks of the first round, plus the Cleveland Browns using their two picks on interior linemen – nose tackle Danny Shelton and center Cameron Erving – plus the Philadelphia Eagles going for receiver Nelson Agholor got the Steelers closer to Dupree.
But even with that help, even if the Steelers had known they were to get that help, it still seemed unlikely they would be able to land Dupree, because of some character issues. Not character issues with Dupree, but the character issues that figured to impact the draft position of two of the other top prospects as edge rushers – Shane Ray and Randy Gregory.
Virtually every mock draft cast Dupree as a top-15 pick even before Ray’s arrest for possession of marijuana, because he brought a solid mix of production, intelligence, diligence, and the kind of high character marks that had him in the mix for the annual LOTT Impact Trophy, given annually “to a student-athlete who embodies integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community, and tenacity.”
Once it was over, and Dupree was safely in the fold as the Steelers newest No. 1 pick, Colbert was almost giddy.
“We’re really excited. The other day during the press conference we talked about the outside linebacker position being very deep with several impact players,” said Colbert, “and we believe we got an impact player in Bud Dupree. It’s really exciting that he was able to be there for us at No. 22. Quite honestly that was something we didn’t expect to happen.”
That’s often the refrain during the news conference held immediately after a team makes a pick, how surprised they were that so-and-so was available, but in this instance it rang true because of Dupree’s production at Kentucky and his spotless record on the character front.
“I think when you guys meet him you’ll find him very humble,” said Colbert. “He’s not a really talkative guy. He’s finishing school this semester. He’ll graduate in four years. He was talked about as a team leader. When we were at Kentucky for the pro day it was just endless support and praise for this kid, so they really believe he was their leader. Kentucky didn’t have quite the season it had hoped for, but everybody spoke about this kid in glowing terms.”
“I think his versatility is something that should be highlighted,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “He’s done a lot for that defense over the course of the last four years. He’s been an edge rusher. He’s played in space. He’s played stack linebacker. This is a very versatile and smart athlete. We had an opportunity to take him to dinner the night before his pro day. There was good conversation with him. You could characterize him as a football junkie or football historian. That’s attractive as well.”
Tomlin said Dupree will begin as a left outside linebacker for the Steelers, where right now the team has returning veteran
“Lamar was a converted defensive lineman in college. Bud has played on his feet and played detached from the core,” said Tomlin. “He showed a much wider variety of skill-set on his college tape. You can find some comparisons in terms of measurables or weight, but it really kind of ends there.”
For Dupree, his wait in the green room in Chicago ended when the Steelers called his name, and he said he’s excited for what he sees as this new beginning.
“I think I’m in the right position,” said Dupree. “I’m glad that Coach Tomlin gave me a chance, and I will prove him right.”