Connect with us

Ledyard | Examining the Growth of Sam Hubbard

OCT 29 Northwestern at Ohio State
Photo by Khris Hale/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Ledyard | Examining the Growth of Sam Hubbard

Big things were expected from Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard when he entered his redshirt sophomore season as a first time starter filling the massive shoes left by Joey Bosa in his departure to the NFL.

A disappointing statistical campaign was the result of Hubbard’s efforts however, as the third-year pass rusher managed just 3.5 sacks compared to 6.5 the year before.

Box score scouts won’t be pleased, but the reality is that the tape reveals Sam Hubbard became a much more complete and technically sound player in 2016, after taking advantage of situational play and a few effort sacks in 2015 that padded his stats.

Where He Wins

Hubbard was often used for pass rush purposes two years ago, so one of the first things I wanted to see in his 2016 tape was how well he handled playing every down while being tasked with more complex responsibilities.

If you don’t know, Hubbard came to Ohio State as a five-star recruit at safety, but the team switched him to linebacker and tight end as a freshman before moving him to defensive end full time in 2015.

Technique and block recognition aren’t easily implemented for first-year starters, so I was blown away to see Hubbard consistently shine as a run defender by dominating at the point of attack.

That’s consistently how Hubbard attacked his assignment off the snap, with hands fitted inside and his helmet and shoulder pads below the offensive lineman’s chin. He does a great job of locking out to maintain gap leverage with his outside shoulder, while setting his feet to not get widened out of his run fit.

Sam Hubbard recognizes and attacks reach blocks while keeping his head play side and his feet shuffling laterally so he won’t be sealed or folded up. He’s consistently able to take away the bounce read for backs on outside zone plays, forcing the ball back inside to his teammates.

For a first-year starter in only his second season at defensive end, this is high quality stuff.

You can see his range in that second clip as well, chasing down Corey Clement to the wide side of the field after stacking and shedding Wisconsin’s right tackle with ease.

Hubbard isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to control his space from the core of the formation to the sideline against most backs.

As a pass rusher, Hubbard is definitely still a work in progress, and there may be limitations on his ceiling as well. But you don’t expect hand usage like this out of a newbie edge rusher, as Hubbard consistently gives himself a softer edge with stutter steps, clubs and swats at the top of the arc.

Obviously the level of competition leaves a lot to be desired here, but Hubbard’s blow is violent, decisive and well-timed. It may not allow him to clear hands this completely and quickly in the NFL, but it’ll certainly be a useful aspect of his pass rush arsenal.

That club and snatch have come pretty naturally to Hubbard, as his best play from 2015 featured some similar nasty hand usage.

He flashes speed-to-power and a strong inside move, but neither are frequent enough to be considered go-to moves. Hubbard has a good forward lean into his rush that helps limit his target area for offensive lineman while maximizing his leverage and power as a bull rusher.

It may be overlooked, but one thing about Hubbard that needs to be noted is that he never, ever quits on a play early or fails to give maximum effort.

The dude has a nonstop motor and will chase down absolutely everything in his vicinity. If he ends up on the ground he won’t stay there long, as Hubbard always bounces back to his feet to track down the ball carrier.

Where He’s Limited or Needs to Improve

For all his positive traits and five-star billing, I don’t see an elite athlete when I watch Hubbard.

A solid athlete for sure, but not the type of transcendent talent that will put him in a top 15-20 conversation based on upside alone. Hubbard isn’t twitchy enough to really threaten offensive tackles off the snap, and he lacks the easily accessed burst to force over-sets and open up big inside rush lanes.

Because he’s either late or just average off the ball, high caliber tackles will be able to set up shop and stymied his cornering efforts unless he becomes more diverse in his rush variety.

Right now Hubbard is trying to win the edge the vast majority of the time, and while his hand work and inside jab steps help him maximize what he has, a counter move could go a long way toward getting him clean wins in 1v1 situations.

Sam Hubbard doesn’t really have a swim or spin to work back inside a tackle efficiently, so he’s still feeling out the process of developing a plan of attack for each opponent’s weak points in their set.

Hubbard might always be limited by his lack of elite burst and speed up the arc, but if he learns to vary his rushes and keep tackles from cheating him to the corner, the soon-to-be redshirt junior does show some hip flexibility to lean on contact a trim a sharp path to the quarterback.

In seven or eight games I didn’t see enough of it to hang my hat on, but I think Hubbard’s 3 cone will at least be a solid result considering his listed 265-pound frame.

I think Hubbard’s lack of truly explosive traits would push him out of the first round if the draft were today, but it isn’t, and I’ve seen players improve on major weaknesses and gain considerable ground in the eyes of NFL teams during their final collegiate seasons.

Hubbard, of course, will have the option for one more season regardless of what happens this year, so keep that in mind as well.

I’m thoroughly impressed with how Hubbard has developed as a hand fighter, technician and stout edge setter against the run, and if he can establish a go-to move and a ready-to-access counter, those sack numbers will increase as he turns pressures into finishes.

Sam Hubbard has NFL starting traits, and while his upside may not be the highest in the upcoming class, there is a lot of reliability and value in what Hubbard offers at one of the game’s most important positions.

Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard has been writing about the NFL draft for several years now, and is thrilled to be bringing creative content and unique analysis to NDT Scouting. He lives with his wife Brittany and four-month old daughter Caylee in mid-western Pennsylvania. Jon is also the host of the Locked on NFL Draft and Breaking the Plane podcasts, while covering the Steelers for scout.com. The Office, LOST, weightlifting, ultimate frisbee, grilling, Duke basketball, and all Pittsburgh pro sports teams are his greatest passions.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Scouting Notes

To Top