The New England Patriots have a motto under Bill Belichick: “Do Your Job.” Belichick wants players who are focused on handling their specific job well and winning with a team-first attitude. The Patriots are business-oriented, and Belichick holds his players accountable, from Tom Brady on down to the rookies.
It’s not a good locker room fit for every NFL player, but there is one draft prospect who, on paper, seemed like the perfect match for the Patriots: Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard, a versatile edge rusher — and one-time lacrosse player — with a strong work ethic. He didn’t end up with the Patriots, however. The Bengals picked him in the third round of the draft.
Ohio State has produced some of the NFL’s top-tier defensive talent over the years, including the last two Defensive Rookie of the Year winners (Joey Bosa and Marshon Lattimore). The next Buckeye in line could be Hubbard.
Why Sam Hubbard would have fit with the Patriots
Hubbard finished his final season at Ohio State with 42 total tackles (13.5 for loss), seven sacks, and two forced fumbles. That was while playing with a very deep rotation of talented defensive linemen, too.
Even when he wasn’t sacking opposing quarterbacks, Hubbard was making sure they were feeling the heat:
Sam Hubbard finished with the fifth-most QB pressures among Power 5 edge defenders in the 2018 NFL Draft class pic.twitter.com/ztaCviXXhy— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 13, 2018
Although the Patriots shored up their defensive line this offseason when they brought in defensive end Adrian Clayborn and defensive tackle Danny Shelton this offseason, edge defender is one of their biggest needs in this draft. They’re still trying to shake off their loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LI, where the defeat showed a hole in the team’s once-dominant defense. Not only did the Eagles put up 41 points, but they were able to notch 538 total yards of offense and only committed one turnover. New England finished the 2017 regular season ranked No. 29 in yards allowed, the team’s worst ranking since 2011.
Hubbard’s pass-rush ability is bolstered by his time playing safety in high school. His experience in the secondary gives him excellent coverage skills for a defensive end, and further adds to the versatility he offers as a draft pick.
While Hubbard may never develop into a top-level pass rusher in the NFL, he could still contribute to the Patriots in other ways. Via SB Nation’s Pats Pulpit site:
And Hubbard proved at the combine that he has the type of athleticism where you could insert him as a 4-3 base OLB, a 3-4 Jack OLB, or a 4-3 Sub DE from day one. In particular, his three-cone and shuttle times were elite for a man that is over 6’5 and weighed in at 270.
Typically athleticism is viewed as a good thing, but when a guy can do too many things, it can make it difficult for coaches to find a specific role for that player. But Hubbard bouncing throughout the OSU rotation will help at least give him the foundation to find his niche.
Were the Patriots even interested in Hubbard?
Belichick is no stranger to Ohio State prospects, and as a longtime friend of Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, he is a regular feature at the school’s pro day and coaching clinics. The Patriots head coach knows what kind of development the Buckeye coaches afford their players and has expressed interest in at least getting to know Hubbard ahead of the draft.
It was reported that Hubbard had an official meeting with the Patriots during the NFL Combine in early March, and he then got to work with Belichick during drills at Ohio State’s pro day on March 22. Belichick ran the drills alongside former Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia — who is now the head coach of the Lions, another team that could benefit from adding Hubbard to its roster.
After his pro day workout, Hubbard told SB Nation about working out with the legendary coaches.
“It’s a lot of motivation to go as hard as you can especially when you got guys like Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick coaching you up. It was an incredible experience. We did some new drills we haven’t done before. It was cool.”
There’s also Belichick’s passion for lacrosse
Hubbard’s athleticism has been on full display since high school, where, in addition to playing safety, he was an all-star lacrosse player. In fact, he was initially committed to playing lacrosse at Notre Dame until Urban Meyer stopped by practice one day and convinced him to play football for Ohio State instead.
Make no mistake that what a player can contribute on the field is Belichick’s top concern, but it doesn’t hurt finding someone he can chat to about lacrosse.
Hubbard’s lacrosse background wasn’t lost on Belichick, either. Hubbard said at his pro day that the Patriots head coach “seemed pretty interested about it” in the times they’ve spoke.
Belichick’s background as a lacrosse player and coach — an interest that he passed down to his daughter, who was an OSU women’s lacrosse assistant coach from 2010-2013 — has certainly translated to his career in the NFL, most notably with his penchant for acquiring players with a similar athletic history.
It wasn’t lacrosse, but Patriots special teams tackling guru Nate Ebner was a serious rugby player during his high school career. Even though he played football for Ohio State, he never gave up on the sport. In fact, in 2016, Ebner was granted a leave of absence from New England to participate in the Rio Olympics as a member of Team USA.
Similarly, in 2016, Belichick brought in wide receiver Chris Hogan, a former high school football player who chose to play lacrosse for Penn State instead of football. He never second-guessed his decision, and ultimately found his way back to the gridiron. In Hogan’s first year with the Patriots, he averaged an NFL-best 17.9 yards per catch.
It goes beyond Belichick respecting the sport and the athletes that play it, though. Excelling at lacrosse — or another sport like rugby — provides a different kind of athleticism and versatility that the Patriots have learned to develop over the years.
That never guaranteed that Hubbard would end up in New England. Instead, the Cincinnati native is staying home. And even though he won’t play under Belichick, Hubbard should still be able to make an impact in the NFL.