For your consideration: Adrian Hubbard
Nobody is talking about Adrian Hubbard, the pass rusher from Alabama. (I believe I know why, but let’s put that aside for now.) He’s been labeled a “controversial player” by a certain professional troll masquerading as an NFL draft expert, and I refuse to link his work or mention him by name. (If you’re really interested, Google it. Hubbard has never to my knowledge had any off-field problems.) That aside, no one is saying anything about him, and most draft websites have him slotted as a 4th- or 5th-round pick, an afterthought.
Enough talk about nobody talking about Adrian Hubbard, though. Let’s take a look at the film and see why they should be.
Adrian Hubbard’s measurables compare favorably to Anthony Barr’s. Hubbard is 6’6″, 257 lbs, with an extraordinary wingspan of 34 1/2″. For comparison, this wingspan is longer than those of Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, and Kyle Van Noy, other highly-rated prospects at the same position, and is as long as that of potential #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Hubbard’s vertical was 38.5″ (Barr 34.5, Mack 40″) and he clocked in at 4.69 in the 40-yard dash (Barr 4.66, Mack 4.65). These numbers won’t tell you what he can do on a football field, but I want to alert you that this is a guy with legit NFL-level athleticism. Let’s look at his games against LSU and Georgia on Draft Breakdown. There’s another tape where he faces Western Kentucky, if you’re interested.
(Note: both games are from 2012. DBD has no 2013 film on Hubbard at this time)
From the first play, you get a good look at how Hubbard uses his wingspan. Pause 3 seconds in, and you’ll see he has both arms extended on the tight end. Because of this attention to technique, he’s able to reach out and bring down the ball carrier. Two plays later, Hubbard is lined up over the tight end on the other side of the formation. He immediately engages on the snap, sheds the block, and makes the tackle inside. Keep watching the video. The very next play, LSU foolishly decides not to block him, which gives us the chance to see how fast Hubbard’s burst is off the line when he doesn’t have to engage a blocker. In the blink of an eye, he’s prepared to sack the quarterback. However, Zach Mettenberger quickly releases the ball for a completion, robbing our hero of a sack. All this and we’re only four plays into the game!
Using tight ends to block Hubbard one-on-one? Worse, yet, using no blockers at all? What’s going on here? Let’s skip to the fifth play of the game, or, if you’re still watching the video, the next play. Aha! Les Miles has learned. LSU sends the right tackle to take care of Adrian Hubbard. What happens? Let’s pause the tape at 42 seconds to look at Hubbard’s technique. He has his hands extended. He controls the tackle and rides him towards the ball carrier, choking off any cutback lane that may otherwise develop.
Adrian Hubbard made an impact in the first five snaps, an incredible feat in itself. I’m trying to highlight his strengths here, not break down every snap, so we can now skip ahead a bit. (Here’s a negative play if you’re interested, but from here out I will focus on the outstanding plays. If you want the full picture of Hubbard, you can watch the tapes on your own time.)
I select this play because we get to see him playing with his hand on the ground, lined up over the left tackle. Here we have Hubbard holding outside contain as long as necessary, then, after the runner has made his cut, Hubbard sheds his blocker and takes the proper angle to make the tackle a few yards downfield. Hubbard makes these plays look easy, when easy couldn’t be further from the truth. He uses those long arms well, so that blockers have difficulty taking him out of plays. Keep watching: the very next play is a sack with his hand down in the same position. Hubbard immediately bursts up field at the snap on a speed rush, then dips his shoulder around the tackle and takes down Mettenberger.
You know what? This play is so good, I’m going to take a picture:
…because this is just beautiful. If you’re confused, look at the arrow. Hubbard is the player doing work on the right tackle.
Oh. you poor left tackle, you never had a chance on this tackle for loss. There’s not much to describe (the film starts after the snap), so just watch the tackle lay on the grass while Hubbard takes down the runner. By now, you should realized why I talked so much about his wingspan. Look at how he shoots his arms out and controls offensive players with such ease.
(For what it’s worth, Anthony Barr has no idea how to do any of this, which is why I’m scratching my head as to how Hubbard is getting no love and Barr is allegedly a top-10 pick. If you’ll remember my opening comparison of their measurements, Hubbard is every bit the athlete Barr is.)
So we saw the speed rush outside against the left tackle earlier, and the shoulder dip to turn the corner on the outside. Now I want you to note that Hubbard also has a remarkable inside move, and he uses it here after setting up the outside threat earlier. LSU’s left tackle is simply guessing at this point. And a couple of plays later, Hubbard beats the right tackle on a speed rush. I’m simply in awe of how he destroys the tight end here to take down the runner behind the line of scrimmage.
I left out a few plays where Hubbard should have been more aggressive, but I’ve more or less walked through the entire game cutup here. When I started writing this article, I knew from memory that Adrian Hubbard was a leap-off-the-screen type of impact player, but honestly, I didn’t recall him being this talented.
On the very first play, the right tackle takes his kick step outside– as we know from the LSU game, Hubbard’s speed rush must be respected– and he’s wrong, as Hubbard makes a quick move inside and obliterates the entire play. The guard recognizes the threat but is too late to meet it. On the very next play, Georgia decides not to block him on a zone read play, and Hubbard makes the tackle short of the first down. Keep watching: the third play is spectacular. Hubbard extends both of his arms and exerts control over the right tackle from the onset; he’s won the leverage battle, and this allows him to toss the blocker aside and tackle the runner for minimal gain. Uh oh… here I go describing every play again. I’m only doing it, though, because once again, Hubbard’s impact can be seen immediately.
Let’s skip all the way ahead to the fifth play. (Déjà vu all over again.) Here we see him using his hand placement on his pass rush to throw the right tackle off balance. He doesn’t get there in time to disrupt the play, but only because Aaron Murray is quick to get rid of the ball. Keep watching. The sixth play, he’s lined up over the left tackle. Once again, Hubbard shoots his arms, knocks the tackle back three yards, and takes down the runner.
On the seventh play, Hubbard rested. Just kidding! Again, he punches the right tackle right in the chest, knocking him back, and this time is able to interrupt the throw. He isn’t consistently dominant, but these highlights show you what he’s capable of. I urge you to continue watching this game if you want to see him struggle to continue to make the same impact as you’ve seen on these plays and in the LSU game.
So what’s the problem?
Since Draft Breakdown has no 2013 tape on Adrian Hubbard, I scoured YouTube to see what I could find, stumbling upon this SEC Football Games channel. Here, I was able to access 2013 Alabama games in their entirety, so I took a few hours to look at contests against Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and Texas A&M. I didn’t watch the entire games, mind you, but I did try to watch enough series to get a good view of Hubbard’s 2013 campaign. I now understand why he’s not being pushed as a top 10 pick after this investigation. He rarely shows off the high-level abilities we’ve covered in this post, and he’s often relegated to third-down pass-rushing duty and other sub packages by Nick Saban and Co. The dominating player who shows up in the 2012 highlights is only rarely hinted at in 2013, and this is a concern. (Not to mention it’s the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article.)
The biggest question surrounding Adrian Hubbard going into the draft is, “What happened?” If all teams did was watch his tape against LSU in 2012, he would be off the board within five picks. He understands how to use his hands to punch blockers in the chest and render them ineffective. He has a speed rush that is nothing to sneeze at, and he has an inside move he can use off of that as a counterattack. Running at him is often an exercise in futility, because of how often he uses his arms and technique to win the leverage battle. None of these skills he showed in 2012 were by accident; you simply cannot show that level of football ability without a fundamental understanding of how to play the position.
On draft day, I’d heavily consider calling Adrian Hubbard’s name starting around the 20th pick, if I’m a team who runs a 3-4 base defense. He’s not a 5-star prospect due to his inconsistent play, but he possesses rare athletic ability and has shown he is capable of being a high-impact player. He has no known off-field problems, and he comes with a clean bill of health. If you can find the fully realized football player inside Adrian Hubbard, the one who ran roughshod over LSU in 2012, then you’ve got yourself a star.