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Blast Furnace: Boom or bust for Steelers 2015 draft class?

Blast Furnace

While eating lunch Sunday afternoon – a day after all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the 2015 NFL Draft had subsided – my 10-year-old son posed the question that’s surely been weighing on the minds of Steeler fans since late Thursday evening: Is Bud Dupree going to be a bust?

I was simultaneously proud and horrified that my cynical nature and fatalistic Pittsburgh fandom had rubbed off on my son before his 11th birthday, but as we ate I pondered his query and tried to come up with an answer. At this moment – four months before the 2015 regular season begins – I don’t believe Dupree will be a bust. In fact, I think he’s the key to the team’s defensive turnaround (should such an event be on the horizon this fall).

Having said all that, it’s unfair to expect Dupree to be the second coming of Joey Porter right out of the gate. But it’s certainly not going to hurt to have Porter – now the team’s linebackers coach – chirping in Dupree’s ear in the weight room, on the practice field and on the sideline during games.

What I like most about Dupree is his size. He’s listed at 6-4 and 269 lbs., which is two inches taller and 25 lbs. heavier than Jarvis Jones. I’m not crazy about anyone – myself included – comparing these two men with a bunch of tale-of-the-tape statistics, but it has to be done. Dupree’s body type would seem to align more closely with the players in today’s NFL. And please don’t come at me with the words “playmaker”, “motor” or “upside” for at least four to six months. I might snap from Draft Overload Syndrome. (OK, I made that up, but still…watch your mouth.)

You can argue that the Steelers wouldn’t have had to take Dupree on Thursday night if Jarvis Jones had performed better in his first two years in Pittsburgh. You can also argue that the Steelers would have taken Dupree at pick No. 22 regardless of the current roster’s composition because he was the best player available. Even if the Steelers had Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas at the top of the OLB depth chart, there’s no way Kevin Colbert can pass on a player of Dupree’s caliber when he falls into the Steelers’ lap. Not sure how it looked from where you were sitting, but I was shocked Dupree was still on the board when the Steelers’ turn came.

There’s no disputing the fact that Dupree must put together a better showing than what Jones has offered up the past two seasons, but he’s going to need some time to learn the defensive system and find ways to translate his physical gifts from the college game to the NFL.

I’m an SEC guy – and a University of Kentucky graduate – so my observations and evaluations of Dupree might be a little more critical than most. I admire what he was able to do against top-notch competition for a subpar Kentucky team in the past couple of years. Whether the Wildcats were winning or losing, Dupree spent his time battling – and oftentimes beating – some of the biggest, strongest and most technically sound offensive tackles from Gainesville to Tuscaloosa and back. In college, he was a really good player on a bad team. In the pros, he’s going to have to be more than that.

The other thing to consider at this point is that a draft is about far more than just the first-round pick. I like what the Steelers did from top to bottom over the weekend. Colbert and Mike Tomlin didn’t take a lot of risks, and they filled needs on both sides of the ball. The issues in the defensive backfield were obviously a priority, with the Steelers spending three of their seven picks in that area. I wish the two corners – Senquez Golson and Doran Grant – were a little taller, but as long as they can run with NFL receivers and have a desire to compete for the ball every time it’s thrown their way, you won’t hear me complain.

Getting younger – and providing some competition for Shamarko Thomas – at safety by drafting Louisville’s Gerod Holliman is smart. Nobody expects either one of them to be the next Troy Polamalu, but I’m expecting whoever steps into the spot vacated by the retirement of No. 43 is going to need some time to grow into the role.

Spending two late-round picks deepening the pool on the defensive line feels like the right move as well. It’s been troubling in recent years that the Steelers seemingly were content with getting older up front and not taking steps to develop young talent. Whether that was because of poor draft strategy, denial or bad luck, getting L.T. Walton and Anthony Chickillo in the sixth round on Saturday should help. At some point, Brett Keisel and his beard are going to want to stay retired.

On the other side of the ball, grabbing two more potential weapons in the passing game is never a bad thing. Sammie Coates should fit in well with the Steelers WR corps. Even if he doesn’t play much out of the gate, learning from Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant will benefit this kid in the long run. And it was encouraging to see the Steelers bring in Jesse James as an eventual replacement for Heath Miller at tight end. Miller isn’t going to be around forever, so drafting James now and letting him learn from one of the team’s all-time greats at the position should pay off big in the next couple of years.


Kevin Ritchart joined the Steelers Gab writing staff in January 2015. He is a veteran writer and editor who has a passion for all things black and gold. In addition covering local high school and college sports for the Trib Total Media family of newspapers for more than a decade, Kevin also possesses a wealth of professional experience in the fields of marketing and advertising. Kevin earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky in 1998 and completed work on his MBA in marketing at Argosy University in 2013. He’s enjoying his current role of freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. You can follow Kevin on Facebook, Twitter @KevinRitchart and Google Plus. To see Kevin's full bio please go to our Meet Our Staff page.

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  1. Pingback: Blast Furnace: Boom or bust for Steelers 2015 draft class? | Sports Feedr

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