Steelers: Bud Dupree will live up to the expectations Jarvis Jones failed to meet

Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett (left) against Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett (left) against Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Pittsburgh Steelers’ outside linebacker Bud Dupree helped end a five-year playoff victory drought in his rookie season, but the young pass rusher left much to be desired in wake of what was still a productive season in terms of growth.

For many in Steelers’ Nation, Dupree’s selection in the 2015 draft caused much ire when he became the second outside linebacker to be selected by the organization in three years. After Jarvis Jones‘ disappointing rookie season in 2013, skepticism was high towards Dupree.

Jones was meant to be the young, talented boost to the Steelers’ linebacker corps that would usher in a new age of domination along the front seven of the defense, but his aforementioned rookie season, a sophomore campaign mired by injury, and another lackluster year in 2015 dashed those expectations to the ground.

For Dupree, who enters the 2016 season as the Steelers’ starting left outside linebacker, expectations are much higher for his second season as a professional than they were for his counterpart in 2014. This is due to the fact that Dupree displays upside that Jones does not possess.

In his rookie season, Dupree recorded 26 total tackles, four sacks, one defended pass, and accounted for eight of the 36 quarterback hurries tallied collectively by Steelers’ linebackers in 2015. He appeared in 563 snaps in the regular season, which occurred in a heavy rotation with Arthur Moats.

In comparison to Jones’ rookie season, where he tallied 36 tackles, one sack, four defended passes, and seven quarterback hurries, these stats look quite similar. The only difference between the two are the sack totals and the 630 snaps Jones appeared in. This gave Jones 73 more snaps than Dupree appeared in, which could have heavily altered Dupree’s stats had he the same amount.

What the Steelers imagined in 2013 when they began to rebuild their linebacker corps was a pass rushing force built on speed. While Jones has displayed quickness to the ball carrier at times, Dupree has an superior first step off the line of scrimmage that can make him a monstrosity for offensive linemen to handle in the future.

Dupree displayed his explosiveness off the snap as early as the second game of his professional career against the San Francisco 49ers. Against veteran offensive lineman Erik Pears, Dupree hunts down Colin Kaepernick as he attempts to scramble out of the pocket on a third down situation.

Three weeks later, Dupree once again made short work of his opposition, this time against San Diego Chargers’ offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins. Utilizing his quickness off the line of scrimmage, Dupree explodes into San Diego’s backfield with relative ease, and claims his third sack of the season against Philip Rivers.

Dupree would record one more sack in the Steelers’ home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but would remain quiet in that department for the remainder of the season. While he may not have accumulated the stats many would have liked to see, Dupree was still a valuable asset to the Steelers’ blitz packages and remained a threatening presence on the field.

As Dupree comes into his own as a professional, the Steelers are likely to lessen the 50/50 ratio of snaps between he and Moats on the left side. The rotation of linebackers from 2015 will no doubt make a return to keep to unit fresh as the season progresses, but Dupree should see a majority of snaps in 2016.

Jones failed to meet the expectations placed upon him as the future of the Steelers’ linebacker corps, as evident of the refusal to pick up his fifth-year option, and now those same expectations are handed down to Dupree to take charge as the future leader of the group.

With Jones’ future doubtful in Pittsburgh and James Harrison likely to retire after 2016, the Steelers are banking heavily on Dupree having a breakout second season. With tutelage from the likes of Harrison and outside linebackers’ coach Joey Porter he has all the tools necessary to excel, but it will come down to how well he performs on the field to test if he is truly up to the challenge.

Dupree has tremendous upside as a pass rusher, but his raw talent and lack of consistent play in a traditional stand up linebacker defense at the University of Kentucky made him seem like a reach to many who disliked the selection. He put on display the talent he possesses as a rookie last season, but 2016 will be the year he proves the Steelers made the right investment choice in their defense.

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As Jarvis Jones’ ill-fated chapter in Steelers’ history comes to a close, the pages of a long, successful career as one of the most talented, young linebackers in the league begins for Bud Dupree. Expect Dupree to carve a path of destruction through offenses as he brings the Steelers’ linebacker corps back into prominence, and once again makes the unit a force to be reckoned with.