Go ahead and call Alvin "Bud" Dupree a freak. What else would one call a 6-4, 269-pounder with a 79 1/2-inch wingspan who ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine? He also recorded a vertical jump of 42 inches, or the best by a defensive lineman in the last four combines.
But what kind of a person is this “freak”?
“He's absolutely a fantastic young man,” said Mark Stoops, who coached Dupree at Kentucky the last two years.
“He is a guy who will be a great team player, very unselfish, very willing to take coaching. He really is very passionate about what he does. He's a guy who's extremely bright on the field. He's exceptional with the amount of defense that he can take in. Obviously there'll be some adjustment period with a transition to an NFL team, but he was just exceptional with the way he had great instincts and also great intelligence with picking up schemes and making calls for us defensively and audibling certain blitzes based on formation. He's an extremely bright guy.”
Dupree has it all, and he's had it all for some time. The first time Dupree was called a freak was on the basketball court. During Wilkinson County (Ga.) High's drive to the Class A state championship, Dupree jumped over a defender to dunk the ball through the hoop.
The Irwinton, Ga., native was also a football star at Wilkinson County. He was a four-year starter at tight end and a three-year starter at defensive end, and after two trips to the Class A state semifinals, the honor-roll student went off to Kentucky to play as a 229-pound tight end for Joker Phillips. Dupree left Kentucky as a 269-pound linebacker for Stoops.
Dupree started three games his freshman season before becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore in 2012. After a junior season in which he had seven sacks, Dupree contemplated entering the draft.
“We sat in my office and talked for 10-15 minutes,” said Stoops. “He said 'Coach, I want to come back.' I said, 'Well that's great.'”
Stoops had submitted Dupree's name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board and the committee told Dupree he would not be a first-rounder. So he went back to Kentucky and the national hype machine latched on. Dupree was ranked fifth on Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman's “Top 20 Freaks in College Football” and fifth again in NFL.com's “14 For '14: College Football's Most Freakish Athletes.”
Dupree's biggest moment last season occurred against South Carolina. In a 38-38 game, with 2:41 left and South Carolina driving, Dupree grabbed a tipped pass and returned it six yards for the game-winning touchdown.
But the following Saturday may have been his most sublime moment. When it appeared that Kentucky was enduring an emotional letdown against Louisiana-Monroe, Dupree led a rally with five tackles, 1 ½ sacks, a blocked field goal and a quarterback hurry before sitting out most of the second half.
“Even though others may have been flat, he wasn't,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot told Kentucky.com, “With his leadership, I think everybody else followed.”
While Dupree was receiving raves and high first-round predictions through the end of his senior season, something was missing: production. In his fourth season with the Wildcats, Dupree recorded only 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. His analytics looked good – 1.9 per carry on runs directed at him – but a 269-pounder with fluid hips and a GPS-timed speed of 21 m.p.h. should get to the quarterback more often.
“If we just left him in a 4-3 and let him rush the passer and be a 4-3 defensive end,” said Stoops, “you'd see his numbers go through the roof with sacks. But he did a lot of things with us, was very versatile, and we were transitioning. It was very nice for us to have such a versatile athlete playing that position. But it will also benefit him, honestly, with a position coach.
“When I took the job I was 4-3 all the way, and we transitioned into a 3-4, so we had our D-line coach coaching the outside linebackers and the D-line for Bud's whole time here. So that can do nothing but help him as he moves forward. That's why I see Bud just getting better and better with every rep and every game.”
Two other questions followed Dupree through the run-up to the draft:
* Why did he wear No. 2 at Kentucky?
“I wear uniform No. 2 because I'm trying to be No. 1 but I am working like I am No. 2.”
* And how did he get the nickname “Bud”?
“My godmother gave me the nickname ‘Bud,’” he said. “One day she said she had a dream while my mom was pregnant before I was born. People called me ‘Bud’ and I was playing football. So they really stuck with it. The dream really did come true.”
Dupree brought his godmother to the draft and said, “It was a great opportunity for her just to get out of Georgia and finally see something else. She’s really happy about it. She loves hearing people call me ‘Bud.’”
The dream should come true in Pittsburgh, where Dupree will learn under Joey Porter and James Harrison how to fall into the line of outstanding linebacker tradition and help a team that fell to its lowest sack total – 33 – in 26 years.
“When you have two guys of that caliber in the same situation, my eyes are going to be big and my ears are going to be wide open,” Dupree said.
“I love the pick,” said Porter. “You never have enough pass-rushers, especially in the way the NFL is being played now. When I played, I think it was more about being able to stop the run and being able to play both. The way they're playing the game now, it's a track meet out there. You have to put pressure on the quarterback. I feel like if we had done that last year, we would've been a little bit better. I think we're addressing some of the problems we had.”
They added a couple of cover men in the second and fourth rounds, but nothing will address "some of the problems we had" like a legitimate pass-rusher. Dupree wants so badly to be that guy.
"It means a lot to be drafted by the Steelers, the defense that they have and the mentality that they bring to the table," said Dupree. "And with them being so good right now, I still believe that I can help them take it to another level. It just gives me something in the back of my mind to think about and make sure I don’t let them down."