Kentucky's top NFL prospect, defensive end Bud Dupree, showed up in an interesting place on Monday when UK released its depth chart to start the season: at linebacker. That's not exactly what one would expect for this star player whose coach has predicted will be a first-round draft pick, but where Dupree's NFL hopes are concerned, it could be an ideal situation for him.
Because at 264 pounds, Dupree is like a lot of defensive end prospects in that he is plenty big enough to rush the passer at the college level, but somewhat undersized to project the same skill in the NFL. For those that come off the edge down after down in college, NFL clubs don't have much to go on in assessing whether they can make a transition to linebacker, if needed, in the NFL. The term DPR (designated pass rusher) describes a player whose only role is getting after the quarterback, which can't be an every-down role in the NFL. These are some of the labels that smaller defensive ends in last year's draft -- think Dee Ford, Demarcus Lawrence, Michael Sam, Trent Murphy -- had to battle in their draft preparation.
Dupree playing some linebacker as a senior will give NFL teams a much better chance to evaluate his overall profile as a prospect. UK coach Mark Stoops noted Dupree's versatility Monday, in fact. Not to mention, Dupree has already suggested he will turn next year's NFL Scouting Combine on its ear.
That said, don't think for a minute that Dupree won't be rushing the passer this season. For one thing, his seven sacks last year make him the SEC's leading returner in the category, and his ability to get to the quarterback is his best trait. Also, note that the depth chart UK released is for a nickel alignment. While the nickel defense is becoming more and more common as offenses spread the field with more receiving threats, there will surely be a number of calls in the UK defense that put Dupree on the edge with his hand on the ground. Dupree will chase his share of quarterbacks in 2014, but his place on the depth chart at linebacker indicates he'll be called on for more than just that.
He was also named one of College Football 24/7's 14 most freakish athletes, so there is no doubt about his athleticism. By the end of the season, there could be less doubt about his versatility, as well.