Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey tells us that “coverage may be king, [but] being able to generate pressure—particularly pressure off the edge—can speed up an offense, and a truly elite pass rush can cause major problems.”
Well, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is poised to cause major problems for NFL offenses in 2020, led by the team’s starting outside linebackers, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, whom PFF have identified as one of the best edge defender duos in the NFL.
Watt and Dupree come in at No. 5 on PFF’s list, thanks in large part to Watt, who is also on the publication’s list of the 50 best players in the NFL entering 2020.
“No edge defender put up a higher overall [PFF] grade than Watt did in 2019,” Linsey writes. “As a pass-rusher, he can win with speed, quickness and power, and he led the way for what was the NFL’s highest-graded team pass rush last season.”
Yet Watt’s run-defense was just as good.
“His run-defense grade since 2018 just so happens to also be one of the best marks at the position, sitting one spot ahead of his brother J.J. Watt on the leader board,” Linsey concludes.
Bud Dupree ‘took a massive leap forward in 2019’
But don’t discount the development of Dupree, Linsey says. “Dupree didn’t necessarily record pressure at a higher rate than in previous seasons but what he did do was capitalize on his opportunities in the form of sacks (11.5) and forced fumbles (four), both well above his career highs. Dupree’s run-defense grade was also significantly higher than his previous career high in 2018.”
Notably, Dupree will be playing for a contract once again in 2020, as the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him back in March, which he signed on April 23.
Dupree’s best game last year came against the Indianapolis Colts, when he had three tackles, two sacks, three hits on the quarterback and also forced a fumble that he recovered. For all that he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Yet it’s clear that the Steelers are preparing for life without Dupree, in the event that salary cap constraints make it difficult to sign him to a contract extension that keeps him in Pittsburgh long-term. In the third-round of the 2020 NFL Draft the Steelers selected Alex Highsmith (Charlotte), who will be groomed as Dupree’s potential replacement.
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San Francisco 49ers’ edge defenders are No. 1
As for PFF’s top rated edge defender tandem, one needs to look to San Francisco, where the 49ers have three edge players who qualify for inclusion: Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead.
The Cleveland Browns’ duo of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon are second on the list while the New Orleans Saints are at No. 3 with Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. The Los Angeles Chargers have the fourth-best duo with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III.