The Bengals defense has long been defined by players like Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Dre Kirkpatrick. Obviously, the team has already moved on from Kirkpatrick, and Dunlap and Atkins are both in their 30’s. That means some of these younger defenders will have to start stepping up in the coming seasons to fill the void that will eventually be left on the field and as a leader on this team.
One player who is in a great position to fill that role is Sam Hubbard.
Weight: 265 lbs
College: Ohio State
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Experience: three years
Hubbard is in the third year of his rookie deal. He is set to have a $982,000 cap hit in 2020, and in 2021, he will have a roughly $1.2 million cap hit, according to Spotrac. In a non-COVID-19 world, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Bengals to start considering an extension for a player like Hubbard either during or following the 2020 season.
However, everything is out of the ordinary at the moment, and an extension for a player with two years left on his contract, even one as deserving as Hubbard, has to be one of the last things on the Bengals minds.
It didn’t take long for Hubbard to be a fan favorite. He grew up in Cincinnati. He went to Archbishop Moeller High School in the area before going off to Ohio State. He had all the makings to be every fans’ dream draft pick. So when he was drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft, there was plenty of excitement.
His rookie season was a bit surprising. He played a very well considering he was a rotational player. He ultimately played more snaps than veteran Michael Johnson, but was out snapped by Jordan Willis. Carl Lawson was looked at as the player on the defensive that was supposed to have the biggest 2018 season, but his injury halfway through the season really put a hold on that. Hubbard’s six sacks as a rookie seemingly came out of no where.
In 2019, Hubbard really cemented himself as a promising young player. His 8.5 sacks was second only to Dunlap’s nine sacks. He played the fourth most snaps, and was in the same range of players like Atkins and Dunlap. Under new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Hubbard’s role was also expanded as he played more as a 3-4 linebacker at times in 2019.
This role really was something Hubbard grew into more as the season went along. There were times early on that he obviously struggled in coverage, but he eventually became serviceable as a surprise coverage player.
Outlook for 2020
Hubbard is in line to retain his starting position on the other side of Dunlap. He will likely rotate with with Lawson pretty often. He should also be kicked inside in obvious passing situations to rush the interior as well. How often the Bengals will go into a 3-4 type defense may still be pretty frequent considering most of the linebackers expected to be on the roster are either second year or rookie players.
The big question with Hubbard is will he take that next step into being a cornerstone defender going forward, or has hit rapidly hit his ceiling as a quality starter? The one thing Bengals fans have probably learned these past two seasons is that it is safe to bet on Hubbard.
One of his best traits is the relentlessness he plays the position with. He never stops going, and a lot of his sacks come via this drive he has. The addition of D.J. Reader at defensive tackle also frees everyone on the defensive line up. Teams will have to focus on either Reader or Atkins in the middle, which should lead to plenty of opportunities of him facing one-on-one blocks.
This isn’t to expect that Hubbard explodes into 15 sack player in his third season. It is probably fair to expect him to either just hit double digit sacks or just exceed that mark. He is a young player who is playing hungry. That drive obviously comes into play in how he prepares in the offseason given his jump from his rookie season to second season. It should be fair to see him take another small leap into a guy people really start to talk about the future with.
Given that Hubbard is slotted to be on of Cincinnati’s starting defensive ends, this seems like a pretty easy call. It also helps that he is on an extremely team friendly rookie contract still as well, which should erase all doubt about whether he will be in stripes next season.
Roster odds: 100%