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Bradley Chubb: The Second Most Valuable Bronco

The future. Bradley Chubb is the Denver Broncos second most valuable player in 2019.

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NFL: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals
What can the astronaut do for an encore?
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So after a long break for free agency and the draft, it’s time to turn our attention back to the Most Valuable Broncos. The scheme changes, draft, and free agency may change some of the final list. Remember that this is as much art as science, but to be as transparent as possible, I wanted to lay out how I made my list. There are 3 main aspects I considered:

1. Value to this year’s team and past performance.

2. Positional value

3. Salary compared to both past & expected future performance.

All three factors are important, but obviously this isn’t an exact science, so I look forward to seeing how Broncos Country disagrees with me.

Check out players 45-35 here.

Check out players 25-34 here.

Check out players 16-24 here.

Check out players 7-15 here.

Check out #6 here.

Check out #5 here.

Check out #4 here.

Check out #3 here.

As the highest pick Elway’s made since Von Miller in his inaugural draft as General Manager, there was pressure on Bradley Chubb to hit the ground running. All he did during his rookie season was come within 3 of surpassing Jevon Kearse’s rookie sack record. For a large part of the season he looked likely to pass it, and as I’ve said more than once: sacks don’t tell the whole story. Chubb finished 2018 with more pressures than Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, T.J. Watt, Frank Clark, Leonard Floyd, Chandler Jones, Preston, and Za’Darius Smith.

Still, he has a lot of room to grow. Anyone who keeps up with Pro Football Focus knows they gave him a measly 68.9 grade, lower than New Orleans’ Marcus Davenport. This despite the fact that the Saints first rounder had less sacks, tackles, tackles for loss, and QB hits than Chubb.

All of this to say, I dove into Chubb’s tape with two big questions in mind.

Where does Chubb shine?

Coming out of the Draft last year, I infamously called for the Broncos to pass on Chubb in favor of Quenton Nelson. Part of my rationale at the time was that it made sense for Elway to grab an elite guard and re-sign Shaq Barrett. The other reason is because I had some trepidation about Chubb’s pass rushing prowess at the NFL level. His workout numbers were very good for the most part, including an exceptional 10 yard split and long arms for an outside backer, but this 7.37 3-Cone and 4.41 Short Shuttle left me cold. I was nervous that he’d lack the flexibility around the edge to reward the cost of the fifth overall selection. Obviously, that looks like a huge mistake given what I just told you above.

One reason the rookie edge rusher’s pass rushing has exceeded my greatest hopes bears out on his 2018 tape. There are a few areas where he immediately catches your eye, but the first is definitely his burst off the line. It’s very good and allows him to immediately threaten most tackles outside the shoulder. This is a big reason why he was so effective at generating pressure on the quarterback a year ago: time after time, he caught offensive tackles leaning to protect the outside, attacked their inside shoulder, and converted speed to power in order to disrupt the QB.

One of the better examples of Chubb attacking a tackle’s inside shoulder.

Another area where Chubb really impressed me last year is his hands and repertoire of moves. He has 34” arms and is good at using them to keep his body clean against most opponents. Most rookie pass rushers will bring a move, maybe two, that they can effectively use against professional blockers. I saw an effective long arm, swim, bull, and rip from Chubb. You see hints of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller’s influence in his game, which is really encouraging. Then you combine that with the fact that he just attended Von’s 3rd annual pass rush summit, the arrow here is definitely pointing up.

The final area of expertise I found as I poured over Chubb’s 2018 tape is how well he grasped his responsibilities as a starter. While this is hardly as sexy as the pass rushing, time after time he proved himself capable of handling what the coaching staff assigned to him. Many times these plays go unnoticed because it means staying home on the backside or attacking the outside shoulder to shutdown pullers, but they help you win football games.

Chubb shuts down this sweep play by meeting the pulling guard, then shedding the block to make the tackle.

Where can Chubb improve in year 2?

If you’ve kept up with the PFF rationale for Chubb’s low overall grade, he’s basically a one-trick pony who can’t cover, tackle, or defend the run. In fact, only Darian Stewart had a lower tackle grade than the rookie edge rusher did a year ago. Only Su’a Cravens was a weaker coverage player. Issac Yiadom was a better run defender. I can’t speak for how the site makes their grades, or how they weigh them by position, but I find those facts hard to believe. I can say that as I looked over Chubb’s 2018 there are reasons to believe his biggest issue with all three areas are his down to down consistency.

The first issue that cropped up on tape as I studied him was his coverage ability. One only has to look back at the Broncos’ week 1 game against the Seahawks to see Chubb completely out of his depth in pass coverage. This shouldn’t surprise you if you remember that the rookie came out of NC State as a defensive end and converted to linebacker with the Broncos.

Chubb played more than 70 coverage snaps a year ago, which seems strange considering it was such a blatant weakness for him in the first week of the season. However, as the season progressed, he looked far more comfortable in space. He never looked anywhere near as bad as he did against Seattle’s Will Dissly.

What should come as a bit of a surprise is how Broncos coaches felt comfortable enough with the rookie to leave him isolated on a wide receiver in space, as they did in the second game against the Oakland Raiders.

This isn’t where I parked my car.

Another problem overshadowing Chubb’s brilliance is his tackling. I’d expect him to improve in this area if only because he probably won’t have too many plays like this over the course of his career:

All in all, I rarely thought he was a bad tackler so it came as a bit of a surprise to me when PFF counted him for 11 misses and used that rationale for his poor run D grade. To try to gather context on that number, I did a little sleuthing. Sports Info Solutions credited him with 9 misses and 41 solo stops, so 18% of his attempts were broken. That’s a better rate than players like Derwin James, Landon Collins, Jason Pierre-Paul, Tremaine Edmunds, and J.J. Watt. In total, 98 defensive players had more tackles broken by SIS charting than Chubb did.

Beyond the numbers, there is still room to improve in this area. Three immediate ways that come to mind is how Chubb could improve at neutralizing blocks at the point of attack without giving up ground, shedding opponents quicker to chase, and tackling in space. I do wonder if the latter will always be a bit of a question, as Chubb’s so-so lateral mobility numbers suggest he’ll have some trouble with evasive ball carriers.

Still, to call Chubb a liability against the run is mistaken. He does a good job keeping himself alive and stretching out the edge to force action back to his help. He also gives legitimate effort, something that can’t be said for every top flight pass rusher. There are certainly flashes of the run destroyer he was at NC State, and I fully expect him to return to that glory under Fangio.

Ask Anthony Lynn if Bradley Chubb is weak against the run.

How does Chubb fit the Fangio defense?

One word: beautifully.

Final Thoughts

I plan to do a longer look at Chubb’s fit in the new defense for next week’s GIF Horse, but all signs point to pure devastation for the tackles of the AFC West. As I said when Fangio was hired, the second year edge rusher should benefit as much as anyone from a true defensive mastermind calling the shots and refining his game. It may be tough to reach 12+ sacks again in 2019, if only because those types of seasons are rare and there are so many mitigating factors: QBs could throw the ball into coverage more often, Shelby Harris or someone else may beat him to the quarterback, etc. But make no mistake, Bradley Chubb looks primed for a breakout season. The fact that he still does have so many areas he can improve upon hints at his insane potential.