The Packers need to get more athletic between now and the start of training camp, and that includes along the O-line. Other than left tackle David Bakhtiari, the team lacks a plus athlete at any of the other positions. And while that’s not the only reason why the offense produced so few explosive plays in 2017, it was one of them.
With Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor and center Corey Linsley all signed through at least 2020, new GM Brian Gutekunst should be looking to add a talented and mobile player to the right side of the line. Of the holdovers, only Jason Spriggs and Kofi Amichia are fleet afoot, but neither has yet to show the ability to play at this level. So as of today, the starting right guard would be either Justin McCray or Lucas Patrick, and the starting right tackle would be either Bryan Bulaga or Kyle Murphy – both of whom ended last season on injured reserve.
Ideally, what Gutekunst needs to find is an athletic lineman who has the skill set to line up at either guard or tackle. Those guys aren’t easy to find, but fortunately, there is a free agent who fits the bill. Pittsburgh’s Chris Hubbard did a more than adequate job in 10 starts at tackle last season, and tape suggests his best position might actually be guard. The 26-year-old isn’t very big (6-4, 296), but he held up reasonably well versus power. That said, he would probably benefit from adding a few pounds if he’s going to move inside. It’s one thing to go up against 290-pound defensive ends; it’s another thing to go up against 325-pound nose tackles.
While playing guard would be a projection, there’s no crystal ball needed to predict how Hubbard would fare at right tackle. He was nearly good as Bulaga last season, and he was much better than McCray, Spriggs and Murphy. The former undrafted free agent from Alabama-Birmingham has a powerful initial punch and very quick feet. He’s also still getting better, so there’s no telling how good he can be in the future.
In the videos below, watch how effortlessly Hubbard handles Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson – a pair of talented veterans. In both cases, he gets into his drop quickly and moves his feet really well to shadow the quicker speed rushers. This makes beating him to the outside extremely difficult.
Like most young and still developing offensive tackles, Hubbard does have some weaknesses in pass protection. By far the biggest are being baited by stunts and twists and allowing inside penetration. These are things he’ll need to work on in the future. In the video below, watch the savvy Suggs get the best of him.
Besides his talent, versatility and potential, something else I like about Hubbard is what his presence would mean to the short passing game. One of the reasons that part of the offense struggled so much last season was the inability of the offensive linemen to block on the second level. It was actually difficult to watch Jahri Evans, McCray, and to a lesser extent, Patrick and Murphy lumber and flail at tacklers in space.
And while Hubbard will never be a road grader at the point of attack, he does have the skills needed to block on the move. That makes him effective pulling for runs and leading screens. In the videos below, watch how he moves on a pair of sweeps. He looks every bit like a guy who ran in the 4.9s prior to the 2014 draft.
Even though he’s been primarily a backup with the Steelers, Hubbard won’t come cheap. If he makes it to free agency, there figures to be a lot of interest. Talented young offensive linemen don’t often hit the open market. And while it might take as much as $7 million a year to land Hubbard, some of that money could be opened up by cutting Bulaga, who struggled a bit last season even before suffering yet another serious injury.
Regardless of what the Packers decide to do with Bulaga, signing Hubbard makes a lot of sense. He would solidify either the right guard or the right tackle position for years to come. And his ability to also fill in at left tackle would mean never having to ask Taylor to slide over. Signing someone like Hubbard would have no chance of happening under ex-GM Ted Thompson. I’m hopeful things will be a lot different under Gutekunst.