With Harold Landry’s outstanding combine performance likely pushing him in to the top 15 picks in the draft, I expect Sam Hubbard — a combine standout in his own right — to take his spot as a popular edge rushing mock draft target for the Titans at 25th overall pick.
Hubbard has connections to the Titans via his college recruitment to Ohio State. New Titans defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs was his primary recruiter when Hubbard was coming out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati as an abnormally tall high school safety.
His recruitment out of high school is an interesting story in itself and is probably a good place to start when learning about Hubbard. While he was obviously an excellent football player for Moeller, he may have even been a better lacrosse player in high school. Before deciding to focus on football during his senior year, he had committed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse for the Fighting Irish.
That all changed when Urban Meyer and Kerry Coombs walked in to a Moeller High gym class in 2012 — they were there to meet Hubbard’s football coach, John Rodenberg, who was also his gym teacher — and noticed Hubbard dominating a game of dodgeball.
“No, I watched him play dodgeball,” Meyer said. “Big, good-looking kid -- well, we got him to camp after that. I was with [Moeller football coach] John Rodenberg in the gymnasium with [Ohio State cornerbacks coach] Kerry Coombs, and we started just talking about their players. ‘You see, I got this kid going to Notre Dame to play lacrosse.’ I said, ‘Where is he?’ ‘Right over there.’ Oh, I was watching him, pretty good dodgeball player. I said, ‘Let’s get him to camp.’
Ohio State — along with several other schools — eventually offered him a football scholarship and he decided to join Meyer in Columbus. He arrived on campus as a 6’-5”, 225 pound safety, but redshirted his freshman year. As he got to work in the Buckeyes strength and conditioning program he started to pack on some weight, leading to a position change to linebacker and then a brief stint at tight end as Urban Meyer and his staff tried to figure out the best use for him on their roster. Eventually, with Hubbard approaching 240 pounds, they moved him to defensive end and that’s where he stuck.
From 2015 to 2017 Hubbard played in 40 games for the Buckeyes, including 22 starts. During that time he tallied 17 sacks, 30 tackles for loss, 116 total tackles, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles. His 7 sack, 13.5 tackles for loss effort in 2017 earned him Second-Team All-Big Ten honors despite being a part of a loaded defensive end group at Ohio State featuring Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, and Jalyn Holmes that allowed for heavy rotation throughout the season.
While that rotation served the Buckeyes well — they finished 3rd in FBS in team sacks with 45, trailing just USC and Clemson who each had 46 — it also may be artificially suppressing Hubbard’s draft value as the sacks got spread around. Bosa led the group with 8.5 sacks while Hubbard and Lewis tied for second on the team with 7 each. Lewis and Holmes will join Hubbard in hearing their names called in the draft this April and Bosa is a likely top 10 pick next spring, so it’s not like he was being asked to rotate with scrubs.
Hubbard was a star in the classroom as well. He was named Academic All-Big Ten all three years for his work in the classroom which culminated in his graduation with a degree in finance after just three and a half years.
Along the way Hubbard has been helped along by another Titans connection, his mentor and former Titans linebacker Rocky Boiman. Boiman went to the same high school as Hubbard in Cincinnati and got to know him through a football academy that Boiman worked with in his hometown.
While Hubbard arrived at Ohio State as Mike Vrabel was leaving, a scout told Paul Kuharsky earlier this week that Hubbard reminded him a lot of Vrabel as a prospect. His toughness, smarts, and non-stop motor will endear him to many NFL coaches, but it will be particularly interesting to see if Vrabel is drawn to a player who might remind him of himself.
By the time Hubbard arrived at the combine this past weekend he was up to 6’-5 3/8” and 270 pounds, a far cry from the skinny dodgeball phenom Urban Meyer first encountered 6 years ago. However, the athleticism that allowed him to be a star safety in high school was still there. You will see one number that really sticks out in the spider graph below — his 3-cone time. That also just happens to be the drill that most experts feel is most critical for pass rushers.
Hubbard elected not to run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, saying that “you only get one shot at this. I’ll do any FB drill any day but I’ve only been training for track for a month and a half.” He will run at his pro day in Columbus instead on March 22nd.
The 6.84 second 3-cone drill Hubbard put up was the fastest 3-cone of any defensive lineman or edge rusher at the combine — a group that included several players that were over 20 pounds lighter than Hubbard.
Interestingly enough, Hubbard’s combine measurements match very closely to his former teammate Joey Bosa’s numbers from two years ago.
Hubbard vs Bosa
|Weight||270 lbs||269 lbs|
|Arm Length||33 1/8"||33 3/8"|
|Bench Press||DNP||24 reps|
Obviously, we still need to see Hubbard complete the 40 and the bench press at Ohio State’s pro day, but I don’t frankly care very much about the 40 for edge rushers. Based on the way he moved during some of the drills during the combine events, I don’t think Hubbard will have any issue beating Bosa’s 4.86 though. Bench press is usually slightly more interesting to me with edge rushers, but Hubbard’s tape alleviates any concerns that a low bench number might raise.
Hubbard isn’t quite as explosive as prospects like Harold Landry, but he’s also not the “average” athlete that many make him out to be. His movement skills are certainly good enough to allow him to succeed at the next level.
I was excited to watch Hubbard on tape because he seems to be a polarizing prospect. What I found was a player who has outstanding power and an extremely developed array of pass rush moves considering he was a defensive back just four years ago. Let’s start with his strength.
Watch him set the edge here against Penn State. He stones the right tackle at the line and controls him, effectively closing the hole where the play is designed to go. Even better, he keeps his outside leverage and is able to fight through a hold to turn Saquon Barkley back for a big loss. Hubbard almost never gets pushed back at the point of attack and he’s excellent at attacking with his hands and controlling his man.
Here’s a good example of Hubbard controlling a blocker. This time he’s about to drop back in to coverage when he reads run. Iowa tries to block him with a tight end, but Hubbard grabs him by the shoulder pads, throws him aside, and makes the tackle short of the first down marker.
He’s an outstanding run defender who is consistently in the right spot. This next rep is a little bit of a gimme, but Hubbard gets a chance to flash his underrated quickness. He gets up field with speed and gives the pulling guard zero chance at even slowing him down. I also love that he takes the opportunity to haul down the quarterback while he’s tackling the ball carrier.
Hubbard’s strength shows up as a pass rusher as well. Here he uses a straight arm move to walk the tackle back in to the quarterback’s lap and force an inaccurate throw.
Here is some more power. This time it’s more of a pure bull rush as Hubbard runs right through the right tackle’s shoulder before finishing the sack.
Hubbard, like many Ohio State defensive linemen, has great hand usage — defensive line coach Larry Johnson is fantastic. On this rep he demonstrates a great swipe move, timing the tackle’s punch and pushing his hands out of the way to gain the edge. He also does a nice job of getting his hand on the ball and punching it free once he gets to the quarterback.
Here’s a rip move from Hubbard. This is obviously more of a coverage sack, but it shows something else that stands out in Hubbard’s film: his motor is non-stop. He takes zero plays off and always rallies to the ball.
Some pass rushers have a tendency to die on a block after their initial move is stopped, but Hubbard constantly works to get free and gets to his second and third moves quickly. This rep is a good example of that. His initial rush is stopped by the tackle, but he is able to counter back inside and help bring down the quarterback.
Here’s another example of Hubbard’s non-stop hustle. He gets a really nice bend around the edge on this one, but interior pressure flushes McSorley before he can get there. Hubbard continues to chase though and you can see his speed as he closes from behind even though he dives for the feet a beat too soon and lets McSorley get to the corner.
Here again is another nice bend around the edge. Darnold gets the ball out quickly here to avoid the sack, but Hubbard was arriving momentarily if he didn’t.
Ohio State sometimes would line Hubbard up inside on pass rush downs as part of their “NASCAR” type rush packages. Here is an example. Hubbard draws a double team, but actually splits the double with a nice swim move. Again, McSorley gets rid of this ball quickly, but it’s a nice rep for Hubbard nonetheless.
Here is another example of an excellent pass rush move that was wasted on a quick hitting throw. Teams often schemed to avoid Ohio State’s excellent pass rush by getting the ball out quickly. This time Hubbard uses an inside spin move and had a clear path to the quarterback.
Here he goes back to the same move later in the same game and beats the tackle again. This time he is able to force an off-balance throw from McSorley as he closes in on him.
Hubbard showed good timing working stunts and games along the defensive line as well. Here’s a well run stunt from Ohio State’s victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl last year and Hubbard is able to finish with authority on Darnold as well.
Ohio State wasn’t afraid to drop Hubbard in to coverage from time to time either, taking advantage of his background as a former All-State safety. Here he drops as part of a zone blitz, but is able to read the quarterbacks eyes and make the interception. He’s clearly comfortable dropping in coverage. While the Titans probably won’t run nearly as much zone blitz under Dean Pees compared to what we saw from Dick LeBeau, it is always a plus to have versatile players like Hubbard.
Hubbard fits the Titans mold that Jon Robinson set out during his very first press conference when he got hired in 2016: tough, coachable, smart, team-first. He checks all those boxes with authority and also has a pretty sparkling record of staying off the injury report.
Given his testing numbers and what the tape shows, I think Hubbard will be very much in play at the end of the first round and beginning of the second. He doesn’t blow you away with elite get off and bend like Harold Landry, but he does offer an incredibly advanced array of pass rush moves that help him win. His strength and technique at the point of attack should translate very well to the NFL when it comes to run defense. Hubbard essentially would give Mike Vrabel a more athletic version of himself to work with and given Vrabel’s success on the field, that sounds pretty appealing to me.