Long before targeted by Titans, pass rusher Bud Dupree sacked Vols and Vanderbilt

Adam Sparks
Nashville Tennessean

Bud Dupree could be the pass rusher the Tennessee Titans have desperately needed.

With the Steelers, the outside linebacker had 19 ½ sacks in 27 games over the past two seasons. But a torn ACL ended his 2020 season after only 11 games.

Dupree reached an agreement with the Titans as an unrestricted free agency, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported. He can sign as early as Wednesday, when free agency opens.

Before his NFL career, Dupree was a college star for a struggling Kentucky program. He played for the Wildcats from 2011-14, when he stood out against notable SEC competition, and then was drafted No. 22 overall in 2015.

KEY ADDITION:Titans to sign former Colts defensive lineman Denico Autry, per report

FREE AGENCY:7 wide receivers who make sense for the Titans

Here is what Kentucky beat reporter Jon Hale, of the Louisville Courier Journal, recalls from covering Dupree in college. It has relevance in understanding the player the Titans will be getting.

Dupree made his mark against Vols and Vandy

In his final SEC game, Dupree had a career-high 15 tackles, including two for loss, and one sack against Tennessee on Nov. 15, 2014. Two years before that, he had a career-high three tackles for loss against the Vols.

Dupree was consistently disruptive against Vanderbilt, notching at least one tackle-for-loss in each of his four games of the series. Eleven of 39½ tackles-for-loss in his Kentucky career came against UT and Vanderbilt, but the Wildcats went 1-3 against each of them.

UK defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree before the University of Kentucky Football game against the Vanderbilt Commodores in Lexington, KY. Saturday, September 27, 2014.

“While Dupree's physical gifts made a jump possible, his work ethic played an even bigger role,” Hale wrote. “Dupree had a chance to leave Kentucky for the draft after his junior season, the Wildcats' second straight 2-10 season, but acknowledged he had more work to do. He developed into one of the best pass rushers in the SEC as a senior with 15 tackles-for-loss and 9½ sacks.”

Why Dupree wore No. 2 at Kentucky

Dupree donned No. 48 for the Steelers. But in college, where single-digit numbers are common for linebackers, he wore No. 2.

According to his Kentucky biography page, Dupree said the number spoke to his strong desire to improve. “I wear uniform No. 2 because I’m trying to be No. 1 but I am working like I am No. 2,” he said.

Dupree’s hard work reaped benefits. He was just a three-star prospect and a 1,000-yard receiver as a Georgia all-state tight end in high school. After arriving at Kentucky, he progressed quickly as a pass rusher at defensive end and linebacker.

“Dupree fits the mold of most of Kentucky’s best NFL players. Almost all of them arrived in Lexington as diamonds in the rough and they were overlooked as recruits by traditional powers,” Hale wrote. “Players like Dupree, Randall Cobb and Josh Allen used those snubs as motivation, propelling them to put in the extra work needed to prove doubters wrong.”

Dupree has pressured quarterbacks for a decade

Dupree’s NFL pass-rushing performances matter to the Titans. He had 39 ½ sacks in his six-year career with the Steelers. But before that, he notched 25½ sacks in four seasons at Kentucky.

Why does that matter? Some players can put together big sack numbers in a given year or two, but instinctive pass rushers aren’t as common.

Dupree has a notable pattern of pressuring quarterbacks for the past decade.

“Kentucky was not very good while Dupree was on campus, but none of those struggles could be attributed to the pass rush,” Hale wrote. “He paired with Za’Darius Smith his last two seasons to provide one of the best pass rushing duos in program history.

“It seems like Dupree followed a similar progression in the NFL. He needed some time to adjust to the league but has taken the next step the last two years. I'll be interested to see how Dupree bounces back from the torn ACL.”

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.