With the 2018 NFL Draft now only 10 more days away from its Opening Night a week from this Thursday, one particular player recently who seems to continually keep coming up as the Saints top pick at #27 overall in a variety of Mock Drafts, is Ohio State University defensive end Sam Hubbard.
Hubbard, a 3-star prospect from Cincinnati, Ohio, had the daunting task of replacing former consensus All-American defensive end Joey Bosa (now with the L.A. Chargers) in Ohio State’s defense starting in 2016.
After playing safety at Archbishop Moeller High School, Hubbard transitioned over to linebacker and eventually was switched to defensive end as he continued to add size during his red-shirt season in Columbus, and was never a full-time starter for the Buckeyes.
But last year as a redshirt junior, Hubbard started 8 games and tallied 42 tackles (including 13.5 for loss), 7 sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles. Hubbard leaves OSU ranking 15th in sacks (17) and tackles-for-loss yardage (154).
However: most NFL Draft analysts are in agreement that Hubbard is still a bit small (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) for the defensive end position, and has some bulking up to do to be ready for the next level.
And while his "high motor" will be very valuable for an NFL defense, there are those who feel that Hubbard might not have the desired athleticism that some teams will be looking for from an EDGE pass rusher.
Nevertheless, he is looked upon as a still-developing player that hasn't reached his full potential yet; and his true value at the moment is that he is ready to play right away for teams that are looking for someone able to both blitz and keep containment on the outside.
That's also the reason why so many recent Mock Drafts within the past week or so, have the Saints selecting Hubbard at #27 overall — mainly because out of all the prospects who are projected to be still available when the Saints pick by that point, Hubbard is the one player who's considered the "safe pick" for New Orleans to make.
1) The Saints have an obvious need at the weakside / right defensive end position on the side opposite of All-Pro Cam Jordan
2) There's the very obvious "Ohio State Connection" between the university and the Saints franchise, who currently have a total of 5 former Buckeyes on their roster (Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Ted Ginn, Jr., Marshon Lattimore, and Kurt Coleman)
3) He's considered by most as the "safe pick" for the Saints at that #27 spot
But — what does making a "safe pick" really mean, and is a "safe pick" actually safe by the definition of the word itself?
Former Bleacher Report and now current The Athletic.com NFL writer Ty Schalter noted in an article that when draft enthusiasts talk about a "safe pick", they mean a prospect with a high floor: a low-risk player who'll almost certainly be a solid contributor.
Schalter says that high-floor guys have better-than-adequate measurables and no long-term concerns. Often, prospects talked about as "safe picks" are multiyear starters for traditional power programs, elected captains by their college teammates and have consistently played with high effort.
And as Schalter observes: the one other kind of safe pick is a player whose measurables are so freaky, his talent so obvious, his ceiling so high, that his floor hardly even matters.
So which category of a "safe pick" does Hubbard fall into?
And perhaps even more importantly:
Can Hubbard come in and make an IMMEDIATE impact for the Saints defense as Marshon Lattimore did last year?
That all depends on WHO you ask, and there are a wide variety of differing view points.
Local Louisiana / New Orleans area NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier of WWL New Orleans TV and Radio in his article this past weekend noted that in many ways, Hubbard looks like the 2018 version of Saints 2017 first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk when he has selected #32 overall.
Detillier says that Hubbard is not the best athlete or big-time workout defensive end in the 2018 draft class, but you should watch his hustle, instincts to get to the right spot and his disruptive nature out on the football field.
Additionally, Hubbard is an excellent technician with his hands, is quick off the snap and has been used inside in Ohio State’s “NASCAR” package to get the best four pass rushers on the field.
And as Detillier notes: we all know about Payton’s love for Ohio State players, and Hubbard plays all out on each and every snap.
Another thing that could work in Hubbard's favor: versatility.
Ohio State University student newspaper The Lantern football writer Colin Haas-Hill says that Hubbard's biggest plays came from all over the field. Hubbard often moved around on defense with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano even giving him a shot as a stand-up linebacker at times by dropping the redshirt junior into coverage.
“[Schiano] wanted to do a lot of different things to switch up the looks and he used me and my versatility to be able to stand up, drop, rush, rush from different spots, and he just wanted to give different looks and surprise offenses,” Hubbard said in a one-on-one interview with Haas-Hill. “I was able to be the moving piece that did that. It also showcased what I can do with teams at the next level.”
Hubbard did not have the type of numbers expected of an elite NFL pass-rush prospect. Instead, he expects the ability to fit into multiple defensive schemes to boost his value.
“A lot of teams have different opinions on me, where I’ll play,” Hubbard said last month at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. “Obviously I’d play anywhere and do any job that I was asked to play. But I could play a 4-3 base end, a 3-4 outside backer, 3-4 five-technique, four-technique. I can really do it all.”
"Safe pick", check. "High motor", check. Great technician, check. Versatility, check.
But Saints fans will want to know: CAN HE MAKE AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT?
The answer is "yes" — and here's why.
NDT Scouting.com and well-respected NFL Scout Jon Ledyard says that Hubbard's tape suggests a player that has been playing with his hand in the dirt his whole life, showing exceptional understanding of blocking schemes, pass sets and all things related to situational football.
Ledyard makes the observation that as a pass rusher, Hubbard is detailed and thoughtful, showing great vision and mental processing to adapt his attacks based on pass sets and the depth of the quarterback. Hubbard doesn’t waste rushes, instead working furiously to keep himself clean, all while scanning to find the quickest path to the pocket.
Ledyard also adds that while Hubbard isn’t a great athlete, he can easily play early downs on the edge, and then kick inside on long and late downs to provide an interior pass rush. And while he may not be quite that big, Hubbard has the technique and pad level to survive inside situationally. He’s quicker than most guards with a clear plan of attack, and more direct paths to the quarterback are really helpful to him.
Bottom line: Ledyard says that Sam Hubbard will be a rock solid, day one contributor for whatever NFL team drafts him, even if his upside isn’t anything to write home about.
Meaning that if he's there on the Draft Board as expected once the Saints are "on the clock", Hubbard clearly will be labeled as the "safe pick" to make at #27 overall.
He might not be as "glamorous" as some of the bigger-named EDGE rushers in this year's class, but he might be the most solid and fundamentally sound one, technique-wise.
With the uncertainty surrounding the recovery of veteran defensive end Alex Okafor from a torn Achilles tendon last season, you could expect to see Hubbard to see a considerable amount of game action as a rookie in the Saints pass-rushing package, with the potential to eventually unseat Okafor as the starter — assuming he can hold off the expected challenge for the starter's role at weakside / right defensive end from last year's 3rd Round pick, Trey Hendrickson.
Is Sam Hubbard the "safe pick" for the Saints to make at #27? Without question.