In today’s NFL, having a pass rush presence is essential for success. It’s the difference between having a glimmer of hope in playing in a postseason game or having to refocus efforts prior to the shift of the offseason schedule.
Just look at the four remaining teams playing in their respective conference championship games Sunday. They all have some sort of pass rush presence. When you look across the NFL, they come in all shapes and sizes. However, the overall statements can be made that when you look at some of the league’s most productive pass rushers, they were either fairly dominant in college or had enough of a fundamental base to blend with their elite athleticism that provided the hope of development to that stature.
This year, the talk of the draft concerning pass rushers starts and stops with North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound edge man comes from strong bloodlines as his father and brother have reached the NFL. His second cousin, Georgia running back Nick Chubb, will also evidently have an NFL career as he is going through the draft process this year.
As a senior, he put up monster numbers with the Wolfpack. In 12 games, he recorded 72 tackles, 23 tackles for loss (second in the country) and 10 sacks leading him to be named the Bronco Nagurski Trophy winner as the country’s best defensive player. He was also named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year to go with his unanimous First-Team ACC selection as well as a unanimous First Team All-American nod. Not to mention that he became the Wolfpack’s All-Time recorder holder in sacks with 25 in his career.
Considered a potential Top 5 pick in April’s draft, when you look at his tape, it becomes clear that the attention and more so the respect of being arguably the draft’s best defensive player is warranted. I believe that some of the tools that Chubb possesses as a pass rusher could help him become a well-rounded force in the NFL.
The first thing that jumps out when watching Chubb’s tape is that he has sound fundamentals in all aspects of his game. He possesses a quick first step and is detailed in his hand usage. More importantly, he has great strength that blends well with his athleticism.
As a pass rusher, Chubb is very polished in his technique and possesses a high IQ in terms of understanding his limitations and how to counter different pass sets. Moreover, he has a good understanding of when and more importantly how to attack opposing offensive lineman depending on the set that is presented, making him a versatile asset in pressure situations. A great pair of examples of that were snaps against South Carolina and Louisville. Lined up against the right tackle, Chubb’s explosive first step was the key.
By his third step, he has already threatened enough to have the tackle turn his hips in hopes of recovering and running Chubb off his track. In previous snaps earlier in the season where he’s seen this, he has opted to try and ‘long arm’ or even rock step before shucking underneath. However, here he opted to attempt his initial contact with a chop. Sensing the tackle leaning, without losing any speed in his rush, Chubb lowers his center of gravity before ripping through — almost using that leverage from the lean as a catapult to quickly turn the corner. That type of bend and hip flexibility executed that fluid by a 275-pound man is uncommon. To add to that, in 2016 it was stated that 21 of Chubb’s 53 pressures (39.6 percent) came from winning on the edge according to Pro Football Focus.
He’s also proficient at not only reading sets on the run, but setting up his pass rushes. This ability to generate pressure against different sets is what makes a player dynamic. This snap is a perfect example. Against Louisville, it’s not the best idea to gamble with trying to win your rush inside against a deadly quarterback like Lamar Jackson.
Already generating a presence with physical speed rushes off the edge earlier in the contest, the left tackle is now overcompensating to alleviate the chances of having to recover, opening up the B gap in the process. Despite having a blitz off the edge to force Chubb’s movement into the inside of the tackle, due to relentless rushes on the edge previously, the tackle was out of position to cut off the angle inside. With a smooth dip of the shoulder to clear, he’s able to be right in the lap of a passing Jackson. When activated in line games, Chubb’s blend of active hands and hip flexibility allow for him to be a presence as both a penetrator or a looper. In 2016, Chubb recorded 16 of his 53 pressures from the inside, per Pro Football Focus.
Having versatility and a repertoire go hand-in-hand as a pass rusher. It’s been said that there are really three traits – two of which have been touched on – that make an effective pass rusher — motor, versatility, and hand usage. While Chubb might not have a wide array of moves, the ones that he has become accustomed to using (swim,chop-rip, rip-flip) routinely displays a nearly flawless approach.
Against Florida State, there wasn’t a player, coach or fan who could stop Chubb from reaching quarterback James Blackmon. He was a pure force and the main reason for that was that in terms of his film, it might have been his best game in terms of showcasing his hand usage.
A common theme with Chubb is threatening opposing lineman so much upfield that their shoulders start to turn. In this rush against Florida State, that’s exactly the case. The tackle makes contact by the third step but has completely turned his shoulders in the process, providing Chubb only one angle to rush (unless he were to spin back inside). In one smooth motion, Chubb provides his best take on Mr. Miyagi’s “wax on, wax off,” throwing his hands counterclockwise motion before conducting a rip with his inside arm. Using it as a lever, he simply uses the momentum generated to rip and bend the corner.
When everything else fails, it becomes a battle of brute strength. With a reported 4.74 40-yard dash, combining his 10-yard split to his pass rush is almost as deadly as hitting a perfect move to clear an opposing tackle.
One thing I really like about Chubb’s pass rush game is his ability to transition speed to power. Explosive get off, and loads up before providing a strike to RT (keeping 1/2 man) and putting them on skates. pic.twitter.com/sniqRrmbbU
— Josh Zimmer (@JZimmer_) January 20, 2018
It doesn’t even have to result in him being the beneficiary of a sack. Sometimes a bull rush that is enough to get the quarterback moving his feet around in the pocket or even step up into pressure is enough. One thing is for sure, Chubb is nearly flawless when converting his speed to power.
There are some minor areas he will have to touch on in terms of the continued refinement of his pass rush game. The biggest, and probably the most important, is when he is slanting into oncoming slide protection. While there is plenty of evidence that he can win, there is also plenty that proves he tends to enter with high pad level, giving opposing offensive lineman his entire target area in the process.
However, he isn’t exclusively a pass rusher. Chubb is also a force against the run.
Much like the common theme in his pass rush being that he can threaten tackles in the blink of an eye, so too is the theme of his sound fundamentals when playing the run. It’s a rarity to see him blown off the ball and even more of a rarity of him failing to generate penetration. He has a good awareness to dissect what block is coming and how to attack.
On this snap against Marshall, Chubb fires off the ball and just by “long arming” the tackle, squeezes the B gap while also keeping his outside arm free to disengage. Despite getting held up from disengaging, you really can’t teach that technique any better. Although, even if he gets beat initially off the snap, he has the brute strength and lateral agility to recover. Per the staff at PFF, he was No.5 in the class for run stops with a percentage of 10.4 in 2016.
I was a bit bummed to hear that Chubb withdrew from participating in the Senior Bowl this coming Monday. Nonetheless, there is really no harm done to his stock and really, unless he just tanks the interviews with NFL personnel during the combine, I’m not sure what really could. He’s the No.1 EDGE prospect in the class and a lock to be a Top 10 pick, possibly even ending up in the Top 5 depending on how the board falls come April. There aren’t many prospects coming out that are as polished as he is in just about every facet of his game, having no glaring weaknesses. He still needs to refine his technique as a pass rusher, but what he can still be effective.
Many may see him as a 4-3 defensive end, however, there are plenty of snaps that could provide hope that he’s more that than. Chubb could be a guy that not only could be a good fit in a 3-4 scheme but a player who possesses the ability to drop into coverage. Nevertheless, Chubb’s worth, in the long run, will be his ability to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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