Running backs have the most direct path to production. Thus, there’s never a shortage of talent at the position. Because running backs are more replaceable in today’s age, their stock has been steadily decreasing on the draft stage, and pathways to success aren’t always linear. With that being said, where does Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard fall in the 2021 NFL Draft? Does his production take precedence, or are there other factors at play?
Chuba Hubbard NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 207 pounds
Position: Running Back
School: Oklahoma State
Current Year: Redshirt Junior
A product of Alberta, Canada, in 2017, Hubbard was a four-star prospect and the top-ranked player beyond the northern border. Standing at just over 6-foot-0, with 190 pounds to his frame, Hubbard had decent size as a high school senior and brought tangible speed elements.
Hubbard received offers from a diverse host of schools. He had interest from coast to coast — from teams like North Carolina and UCF to Oregon and California. In the end, however, Hubbard chose to split the difference and wound up in the country’s heartland. Hubbard signed with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Chuba Hubbard’s career as the Oklahoma State running back
Hubbard redshirted his first season with the Cowboys and did not see the field in any capacity. That changed in 2019, however, when Hubbard was able to earn opportunities as a rotational back. Playing in tandem with current Ravens running back Justice Hill, Hubbard earned 740 yards and seven touchdowns on 124 carries. He also logged over 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.
In 2019, Hill entered the NFL Draft, and the premier running back role was Hubbard’s alone to fill. The Oklahoma State running back erupted in his redshirt sophomore season, piling on yards en route to a historic campaign. Hubbard amassed 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns on 328 carries, averaging a healthy 6.4 yards per rush.
Hubbard’s success earned him consensus first-team All-American nods, and he was also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and the Walter Payton Player of the Year Award.
Chuba Hubbard’s 2020 campaign
However, even beyond simple awards, Hubbard’s 2019 season officially put him on the map for the 2021 NFL Draft. Hubbard was eligible to declare in 2020, but he chose to return for another year of college football. Ideally, Hubbard would have expanded beyond his extraordinary 2019 production and dominated the Big 12. But his return in 2020 was instead a disappointment.
Hubbard saw his efficiency decrease in 2020. His workload also suffered, as running backs Dezmon Jackson and L.D. Brown bit into his share. In his third season under head coach Mike Gundy, Hubbard only managed 625 yards and five touchdowns on 133 attempts. He earned fewer yards on more attempts than he did in his redshirt freshman campaign.
In the draft, one of the best strategic moves a prospect can make is to sell high. Hubbard missed his opportunity to do that. Thus, there was speculation that he might return in 2021 to try and bounce back. Hubbard ended that speculation, however, announcing his decision to opt out of the Cowboys’ bowl game and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hubbard officially opted out on December 13 to get a head start on his preparation. After the tumultuous resolution of his collegiate career, he’ll certainly need it.
Analyzing Chuba Hubbard’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
The numbers from 2019 jump off the page. Hubbard no doubt earned his reputation as one of the premier backs in college football. But how did he do it?
Hubbard’s dynamic ability proved to be key in 2019. The 6-foot-0, 207-pound back has great vision and solid speed, which is a nice combination to have in the backfield. He’s able to hold out in the backfield until the right hole reveals itself, and once it does, he has enough downfield burst and acceleration to seize the opportunity.
Additionally, Hubbard’s speed also helps him in open field. Once he has a clear runway, he can reach his top speed relatively quickly, and he also has a little bit of suddenness with space, which can help him make solo defenders miss, prolonging plays by extension.
What are the issues with Chuba Hubbard?
Unfortunately for Hubbard, beyond his vision and speed — both of which are quite good, but not elite — there isn’t much he offers to the table consistently.
Hubbard is visibly lean at 207 pounds, and he already has trouble withstanding contact and breaking through tackle attempts. His contact balance is also relatively poor, limiting his ability to maintain speed through arm tackles and half-attempts. At the NFL level, it’ll be even harder for Hubbard to thrive in congestion.
Hubbard doesn’t have quite enough agility or elusiveness to make players miss in the backfield, either. The Oklahoma State running back’s explosive foundation can create yards in the right situation. More often than not, however, Hubbard needs space to be created for him first. That’s not ideal for an aspiring early-round back.
To make matters worse, Hubbard doesn’t convert in other areas either. He actively regressed as a receiver in college. Additionally, as a pass blocker, he can get moved around easily, and he doesn’t recover with a lot of energy. Hubbard is a bit of a one-trick pony, and in the modern NFL, versatility is especially coveted from running backs. Hubbard doesn’t have that versatility, and when he’s not even elite at what he does well, it spells doubt for his draft stock.
Chuba Hubbard’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
There is a role for Chuba Hubbard in the NFL, but the Day 2 hype might be too much. Hubbard’s lack of versatility and inconsistent elusiveness removes him from the running, but on mid-to-late Day 3, he’s still a solid role player. His straight-line speed, vision, and patience could earn him a chance as a rotational player in an offense that frequently spreads out defenses with three and four-wide sets.
Hubbard’s speed allows him to make some things happen, even when players are cluttered at the line. But his lean frame dictates that he’ll need some space cultivated for him at the next level. Thus, teams such as the 49ers, Bills, and Chargers might be some of the best fits for him. In truth, there are plenty of teams who could have use for Hubbard late in the draft. It’s just a matter of how teams weigh the absence of versatility in his skill set.
Considering Hubbard’s dominance in 2019, seeing him labeled as a Day 3 player might be disappointing. But there’s nothing wrong with being a depth running back in the NFL. As we’ve seen in recent years, running back is one of the most volatile positions in the league, and touches are becoming increasingly available. Hubbard may see time right away as a spark plug, and in time, greater opportunities could come to him.