One of the New England Patriots' goals heading into the draft likely has to be adding quality depth to their defensive front seven – a unit that lacked just that last year. While the team has already added players this offseason and will get Dont'a Hightower and Derek Rivers back off their respective injuries, it is expected that the Patriots will add another player to the group early on in the draft.
A potential target to watch is Ohio State's Sam Hubbard, who is coming off a productive four-year career under Bill Belichick's buddy Urban Meyer. Let's take a closer look at Hubbard.
Name: Sam Hubbard
Position: Defensive edge
School: Ohio State
2017 stats: 13 games, 42 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Size: 6053, 270 lbs, 33 1/8 arm length, 10 hand size
Combine numbers: 35” vertical, 9’8” broad jump, 6.84 3-cone drill
Expected Round: late 1st/early 2nd
Strengths: Hubbard is a rather polished defender entering the draft that comes with a sound technical skill set: He tries to keep his pad level when attacking the pocket, stays balanced due to his lower-body strength and displays a good bend when rushing from the edge. Hubbard is also active with his hands as he tried a variety of pass rushing moves in college. All in all, he is a pro-ready prospect that only needs a little work on his technique.
The former lacrosse player – another positive when it comes to the Patriots – also has good vision and play recognition and reads the quarterbacks or ball-carriers well. Hubbard also has quick lateral movement that works well on stunts and is able to slide well through initial bump-and-run contact. A high-motor player, he also has shown an ability to set the edge in the run game, although he needs to become a bit more consistent.
Furthermore, Hubbard is a versatile player that has experience lining up in multiple techniques along the defensive line: He played on both the left and the right side, was used in a two- and three-point stance, and attacked the pocket as a 7-, 5- and 3-technique linemen or both a Jack and Mike linebacker. Hubbard also has experience and the appropriate moving skills to drop into coverage and be competitive.
Weaknesses: Even though Hubbard looks like a plug-and-play defender his success at the next level is not a given considering his athletic profile: He is a quick player but lacks the burst to properly be classified as a speed rusher at the next level. Due to this, he will have to win one-on-ones more with his technique and vision than his raw power. Hubbard also does not have a great first step and is a bit slow at times coming out of his stance.
Hubbard also lacks ideal arm length which in turn might prove problematic when it comes to getting off blocks. Because of that he has a tendency to try to avoid contact when rushing the passer especially out of edge alignments. This leads to him running an arc around the offensive tackles, which in turn opens up room for a quarterback to step into and buy additional time.
What would be his role? After playing primarily as a down-lineman for the Buckeyes, Hubbard might see a slightly different role in New England and become more of an Jack/elephant linebacker in the team's 5-1 front: a player regularly aligning at the end of the line while also having coverage responsibilities and needing to be able to play in space.
How many downs can he play? Four. He would however likely not be an every-down player early on in his Patriots tenure considering the personnel the team currently has at its disposal.
What is his special teams value? Hubbard probably lacks the straight-line speed to be competitive on punt and kickoff coverage, but he could be used in punt and field goal/extra point protection as well as a blocker on opposing kicking attempts.
Does he have positional versatility? While playing predominately as a down-lineman both on the left and the right side of the line, aligning in 5- and 7-technique spots, he also saw time playing on the interior as a 3-technique/Mike linebacker-hybrid at Ohio State. He also has experience playing in both a two- and a three-point stance. A potential transition to more of a Jack/elephant linebacker would therefore make sense.
Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? By year two, Hubbard could have established himself as the Patriots' top linebacker behind Dont'a Hightower and thus see increased snaps along the team's front seven. His general usage and responsibilities might also expand a little once Hubbard becomes used to life in the NFL.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? No matter the exact position he will ultimately end up playing in New England, it is safe to say that Hubbard would have to beat out edge players like Derek Rivers, Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Marquis Flowers and Harvey Langi for practice reps and playing time.
Why the Patriots? As noted above, the team needs an infusion of talent into its defensive front seven – and Hubbard would be just that. A proven commodity and productive player against both the pass and the run, the Ohio State product would certainly give the team a versatile depth option that very well could turn into a full-time starter further down the line.
Why not the Patriots? If New England – as is expected – opts to invest early-round draft capital in its front seven, it might opt to go with a player like Alabama's Rashaan Evans that has higher athletic upside in round one. If that is the case, the Patriots might not want to take another similar player with picks 31 or 43.
Verdict: Overall, Hubbard looks like a typical New England player from his background in lacrosse to his versatility to his sound technique. It would therefore not be a surprise to see the team select him either late in the first or early in the second round of the draft – and find its latest player in the mold of former all-time Patriots Mike Vrabel (another Ohio State product) or Rob Ninkovich.