A year after the Bengals drafted him in third-round of the 2018 NFL draft, Cincinnati native Sam Hubbard had a breakout season in 2019, starting 15 games and recording 8.5 sacks.
Hubbard was supposed to build off that season in 2020, but just like with everything else, 2020 had other plans. He had a pedestrian first four games to start the year and a Week 5 elbow injury sidelined him for a month. Hubbard finished the year with 13 games played, and just two sacks. He had an almost three-month stretch of play in which he didn’t get the quarterback on the ground.
That’s going to be what defines his season for most, and it’s something that must change. Hubbard, despite not getting to the quarterback often, did make an impact on the d-line. He recorded 62 tackles, 11 quarterback hits, and ended up as ESPN’s top edge defender in run-stop win rate.
Hubbard’s growth as a run defender and his overall play upon returning to the field gave us a glimpse at his potential. His productive month of December featured a defense grade of 89.7 from Pro Football Focus, but the first three months of the season left much to be desired.
While the Bengals did play a plethora of experienced quarterbacks, a starting defensive end must be more consistent throughout the course of a season. Hubbard is set to enter a contract season in 2021, and if the Bengals want to, they can bank on Hubbard showing out to earn his next payday. But is that payday already on the way?
Jessie Bates III and Sam Hubbard have been tabbed as likely candidates to sign extensions this offseason. Bates, who earned 2nd-Team All-Pro honors this past season, is surely worth investing in, but locking in Hubbard for the foreseeable future could pay off if he makes the leap as a pass-rusher. Hubbard can still be worthy of a second contract even if he never becomes more than a run-defender. The question will revolve entirely around how much that type of player is worth.
As a cornerstone piece of the defensive line along with D.J. Reader and hopefully Carl Lawson, the Bengals are going to need more from the former Ohio State Buckeye as he’s set to enter his fourth season in the NFL next year.