Taking skills of college players and projecting them to the NFL is an inexact science. From the different styles of play to a lower level of competition, rarely is there a clear and obvious situation that translates from one level to the next.
Occasionally we get a prospect going against top competition and if we’re really lucky it can be a one-on-one matchup. That’s what we got in a late-October game during the 2017 season when North Carolina State took on Notre Dame with a main event of edge rusher Bradley Chubb against left tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Chubb is expected to go in the top-10, as early as second overall to the Giants and maybe no later than sixth to the Indianapolis Colts. McGlinchey is projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick and regarded by some as the top offensive tackle in this year’s draft class.
These were two of the most dominant players at their positions in college football last season. Chubb’s 23 tackles for loss were second-most among defenders in 2017 and he put together his second-straight 10-sack season. McGlinchey allowed three sacks and just two other quarterback hits on 412 pass blocking snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus.
During the October game, the two did not face off on every snap. North Carolina State moved Chubb around the line at both left and right defensive end throughout the contest. He made his biggest impact early when lined up across from McGlinchey, but not against him.
On a third-and-13 play at the start of the first quarter, Chubb lined up wide on the outside shoulder of tight end Alizé Mack (86). At the snap, Chubb rushed around the outside while McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson double-teamed the defensive tackle. That left Chubb one-on-one against Mack with running back Josh Adams (33) also responsible for help on the end. But Adams went to help on the outside shoulder of Mack and as Chubb saw that, he went back inside as quarterback Brandon Wimbush stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure from the other side. Chubb shed the block and got a sack.
The next offensive drive for Notre Dame ended in a similar way. Again backed up deep in their own territory, the Fighting Irish faced a third-and-16. A typical move for an un-creative offense in this situation would be either a draw or a screen and that’s what happened here. Notre Dame tried to run a screen, but the play was almost blown up before it got started due to the speed of Chubb of the line. The play almost ended as a sack and the pass was rushed before the blocking was set up, which led to an easy tackle for the defense behind the line of scrimmage.
During a screen, the offensive line is supposed to invite pressure before going out to block downfield. This play was not that. Chubb blew past McGlinchey before the tackle had any chance to get a hand on him.
McGlinchey was able to handle Chubb on more traditional one-on-one plays during the game. On this second-and-5 in the second quarter, Chubb tried to rush around the edge, fight inside, then spin move back outside, but McGlinchey never gave ground while Wimbush attempted a deep pass that fell incomplete.
However, Notre Dame did make sure there weren’t going to be many opportunities for the two to go one-on-one for an extended period of time. Late in the second quarter, Notre Dame faced a second-and-7 from their own 15. Chubb again tried to rush around McGlinchey’s edge, but the tackle was able to hold up in pass protection. For insurance, Quenton Nelson shuffled back to help against a potential inside move.
On an early fourth quarter play from midfield, McGlinchey had great hand use to initiate contact with Chubb and again was eventually helped by a double-team from Nelson.
With so much of Notre Dame’s offensive game plan built around stopping or avoiding Chubb, the defensive end made sure to make the most out of the plays that weren’t.
Late in the second quarter, Notre Dame called a run with McGlinchey assigned to block straight to the second level. That left no one on Chubb, which was a mistake. He held his ground and met the running back with a tackle as soon as he hit the line of scrimmage.
For the first play of the fourth quarter, Chubb and McGlinchey were across from each other but the called outside run took McGlinchey to the numbers to take on a linebacker. That left Chubb on tight end Durham Smythe (80), who had motioned across the formation for this assignment. Poor Durham Smythe. He never had a chance. Chubb beat the receiver inside and forced a tackle for loss four yards behind the line.
This game featured strengths from both players and there was no decisive winner one way or the other. Chubb impressively finished the game with a sack and three tackles for loss, but
Both teams tried to scheme around the other — North Carolina State put Chubb on the other side of the line and Notre Dame gave McGlinchey the option of help on some plays when the two did match up.
What this game did show is at their best, both of these players should be able to make an immediate impact for their NFL teams in 2018 when they’ll be playing more often against the best competition in the world.