It would seem to be a painful experience for some were they forced to acknowledge a positive performance from Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Chris Hubbard. While the former undrafted free agent did not have the most successful career leading up to the 2016 season, he began to change the discussion around himself and his future through his play during the year.
After spending time in training camp and the preseason playing all five positions along the offensive line, Hubbard was thrown into action a few games into the season after Marcus Gilbert suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for a few games.
It was in the same game that Ryan Harris, whom the Steelers signed to compete for the starting job at left tackle, with the consolation prize being to serve as the swing tackle, saw brief action replacing Gilbert, but landing on injured reserve after the fact.
With Harris out of the picture, the onus was on Hubbard to step up and fill in, and he did so, playing admirably while starting over the course of three games. The biggest knock against him in that span was a holding penalty that negated a touchdown, but it looked like an official jumping the gun when the pass-rusher slipped.
I spent time breaking down some of the action from the games that Hubbard started, and I came away a lot more impressed with what he did than I was expecting going in. While I noticed improvement during the preseason, there was a bad taste in my mouth from the last two preseasons, during which he struggled so much I figured he would miss the cut.
But he has stuck around now for three years, earning a restricted free agent tender that the Steelers signed him to this offseason. And I say earned because he did earn it, in my opinion. He played well enough to show that he is capable of being a backup at right tackle with the flexibility to play all positions.
Pro Football Focus evidently agreed, as they had him rated highly among backup tackles during the 2016 season, placing third behind Cyrus Kouandjio and Ty Nsekhe of Buffalo and Washington, respectively, though it would be ‘formerly’ in the case of the former.
Cyrus Kouandjio visited the Lions today. He impressed as a reserve in 2016. pic.twitter.com/kQ68HIclAq
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 7, 2017
Mileage will vary greatly with this type of thing, but PFF’s grading reaffirms how I viewed Hubbard when I watched him start. Feel free to revisit the film review article that I wrote up for ‘Mother’ Hubbard following the Patriots game in the regular season.
After Gilbert returned, the Steelers continued to use Hubbard extensively as a tackle-eligible. While it’s true that they were lacking at tight end, they didn’t have to do that. They did so because they liked what he was able to do.