By Jeremy Hritz
Bud Dupree was drafted in the first round in 2015 at pick #22 out of by Kentucky as a defensive end who transitioned to an outside linebacker with the Steelers. We all know how that story unfolded. What some of us may be quick to forget are the “Bud the Dud” nicknames for his underwhelming production in his first three seasons emerging and showing what he could do with his potential fully actualized.
Sadly, Dupree has departed for Tennessee, where the contract was richer than his offer in Pittsburgh, shifting TJ Watt’s opposite side partnership to Alex Highsmith. Beyond those two, the depth is limited at the OLB position, and the Steelers are searching via the draft and free agency for help. One such rookie free agent the Steelers have taken a chance on is, like Dupree, a Kentucky product who plays outside linebacker. Jamar Watson is a UDRFA who in rookie minicamp began his battle with Calvin Bundage and Quincey Roche to show he belongs on an NFL roster. While not as decorated as Dupree or as physically gifted, Watson demonstrated growth each year in college, indicating a positive trajectory that very well could continue in the NFL with the Steelers.
Watson, or “Boogie” as he is affectionately called, has a basketball background in addition to his football experience, indicating his athleticism. He measures in at 6’2, 242 pounds, not super lengthy or anchored, Watson relies on his speed, persistence, and athleticism to get after the quarterback and to stop the run. His challenges come in the realm of size and available power to manage offensive tackles and hold the point of attack when setting the edge.
Watson demonstrated he posses a malleable upside throughout his career at Kentucky, improving his play and output, increasing his sack and tackle for loss totals every year except for 2020 which was obviously impacted by the pandemic. Compared to Dupree, Watson tallied 5 less sacks at 18.5 over his career to Dupree’s 23.5. In terms of tackles for loss, Watson notched 28.5 compared to Dupree’s 37. It is also worth noting that Watson, according to PFF, had one of the highest pressure rates in college football (#4 overall) at 18%. While Dupree outperformed Watson in his Kentucky career, which is to be expected when comparing a first round pick to an UDRFA, Watson still produced admirable numbers, making his candidacy with the team intriguing.
Watson has the talent the Steelers desire at the edge position, and his areas for growth are workable: he can add size and strength, and he can develop his defense against NFL rushing attacks. He will need to show his pass rush skill set is enough at this point in his career to override his improvement areas, and if his pursuit of passers is effective and productive and he can flash on special teams, he could fight his way into the team.
Watson’s unyielding motor, quickness, and athleticism give him an opportunity to compete with the Steelers, and that’s why they brought him in as an undrafted player. Bolstering his talents, his football intelligence is impressive, giving Watson a real chance to work his way into a role with the team.