With the second week of free agency wrapping up and the Falcons running exceptionally low on cap space, we have a bit of a clearer picture of Atlanta’s needs heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. The team signed TE Logan Paulsen, CB Justin Bethel, and re-signed DE Derrick Shelby to a smaller contract. They’ve addressed their depth issues at several positions, but there are still some notable holes on the roster.
Outside of defensive tackle, which is the only (and most obvious) screaming need at this point, the team could use more depth at EDGE, WR, and LB. I haven’t actually scouted any EDGE players for you yet, so it seems like as good a time as any to correct that. Enter the subject of today’s report: Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard.
Hubbard was a three-year starter on the edge for Ohio State, culminating in a very strong 2017 campaign that saw him post 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 7.0 sacks. To get a better idea of Hubbard’s skillset, I watched him against USC (Cotton Bowl), Michigan, and Iowa. Check out the full report below to find out what I learned.
EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
Hubbard’s smooth, fluid ability to move in space immediately stands out. Effortless change-of-direction and ability to quickly bend the edge make him a dangerous pass rusher. Ideal size for an NFL EDGE at 6’5, 270—big enough to be a factor on base downs without sacrificing athletic ability. Well-rounded and polished skillset as an above-average pass rusher and run defender. Plus awareness in the passing game—will get his hands up and impact throwing lanes if his rush stalls.
Refined technical ability and hand usage with several moves in his arsenal. Good understanding and use of leverage in the run game makes him an effective edge setter. Hubbard’s most noticeable trait might be his motor—he’s relentless until the whistle and is very good at navigating through traffic to finish the tackle or sack. Versatile player with experience executing stunts, twists, and other creative blitz packages along with playing as a QB spy and dropping into coverage.
Despite testing well at the Combine, Hubbard’s get-off and explosive traits appear merely average on tape. He’s quicker than fast and can struggle when asked to run and chase or drop into coverage. Fast QBs can outrun him to the sideline if they evade his initial rush. Hubbard lacks ideal length and his short arms can make it difficult to disengage from tackles. Can be too aggressive at times, launching into the backfield and leaving open cutback lanes for runners.
Hubbard is an interesting NFL prospect. He’s technically advanced and possesses a well-rounded game that sets him up to be an immediate starter at the NFL level. But how high is his ceiling as a pass rusher? Is he anything more than a #3 edge rusher for a team? These are all questions that will impact just how high teams decide to pull the trigger on a player like Hubbard.
His Combine testing undoubtedly helped his stock, as he has the numbers of an above-average athlete. The tape shows a player that can bend the edge well, but that doesn’t necessarily explode off the line of scrimmage. The testing says he can be both. With his already refined technique and relentless, competitive spirit, Hubbard’s floor looks like a good 4-6 sack #3 rusher. If he can reach his athletic ceiling, I think Hubbard could be a 6-8 sack player.
With Adrian Clayborn gone, the Falcons could certainly use an injection of youth and talent at EDGE. Hubbard is big enough that he could theoretically offer some of the inside-outside flexibility that Clayborn did, but replicating that unique part of Clayborn’s game shouldn’t be the highest priority for Atlanta. In Hubbard, the Falcons would get a Day 1 contributor that could help out in both base packages and in nickel sets. If he’s still available when Atlanta picks in the second round, he’d be a good value that would immediately bolster the defensive line for years to come.
Grade: 2 (second round)
What do you think about Sam Hubbard? How would you feel about the Falcons drafting him early on Day 2? Who are some other EDGE players that you have your eyes on for Atlanta?