The Cincinnati Bengals have used high picks on defensive linemen in recent drafts to mixed results. Names like Margus Hunt, Dontay Moch, Devon Still and Jordan Willis have left underwhelming results after being drafted in the second and third rounds.
However, 2018 third-round pick, Sam Hubbard, had a nice rookie campaign. As a rotational player with the Bengals, the former Ohio State standout had six sacks and 39 total tackles.
A starting role appears to be up next for Hubbard, so 2019 is a huge year for his career arc. While there are some lingering questions, there are items from last year’s sample size that point to a big year from the second-year defender.
Why he could break out in 2019
In limited snaps last year, Hubbard had a pretty huge impact. With increased production and some game-changing plays on his resume, Hubbard saw more action as the season began to slip away from the Bengals.
His fumble recovery for a touchdown against Miami sealed a critical early-season win, while his two sacks against Oakland ended a miserable stretch of losing amidst a slew of injuries. If these are the type of plays he was capable of as a rookie, one is inclined to believe that more will come with increased playing time.
While it isn’t something that points right at Hubbard’s skills per se, the arrival of Lou Anarumo should help him. Anarumo wants to get after the quarterback, so the hope is that he’ll draw up rusher-friendly schemes, as well as not hit the in-game panic switch that ended up being the downfall of Teryl Austin.
Working on a line with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap couldn’t hurt, either.
What he needs to prove this year
Hubbard needs to show everyone that he can be counted upon to be a guy who can be productive as a starter. He was a rotational player last year and put up some decent numbers in the role.
While Michael Johnson was a target of fan ire in recent years, he does leave big shoes for Hubbard to fill. Not only is he sixth on the franchise’s all-time sack leader list (once it became an official NFL statistic in 1983), but he was a longtime locker room leader. In a transitional year, and one where he will become a starter, Hubbard might also need to take a step forward as a team leader.
The other factor Hubbard will need to bring to the Bengals’ defense is consistency. Dating back to his college days, Hubbard proved to be a feast-or-famine-type of player with some dry spells of performance.
As a rookie, he started the season with just one sack in the first seven games. Of course, that ramped up when Lewis began to trust Hubbard, but there was also an eight-game stretch in his final year with the Buckeyes where he didn’t notch a sack before getting five in the last three games.
Cincinnati is banking on Hubbard for the future, but it’s on him to realize his potential. If he does, it will be another big piece for a defensive rebound in 2019.
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