You might have missed it if you blinked. Seattle made sizable addition to their defensive line ten days into the free agent period. Ahtyba (pronounced Ah-TAH-bah) Rubin signed a one-year deal, $2.6M contract with just $1M fully guaranteed. He was once and up-and-comer in the Browns organization, signing a sizable $26.5M contract extension with Cleveland back in 2011 that included $18M in guarantees, but has fallen out of favor with waning performance and some injury trouble last year. Pete Carroll has been unabashed in his eagerness to see what Rubin can do in his defense. Let’s take a look at what Rubin offers, and what he might become for Seattle.
Rubin stands in at 6’2″ and weighs in at a reported 325 pounds. He was a 6th round draft pick of the Browns back in 2008, and has primarily been a nose tackle during his career.
ProFootballFocus has a statistic called “stops” that they define as a “solo tackle that constitutes failure for the offense, including sacks.” Looking at that number for Rubin gives a good perspective on his career trajectory. The first thing that might come to mind when seeing the drop-off started after he got his money. That might be the reason, but I have a different theory after digging a little deeper.
One thing to know about Rubin is that everyone who has been in contact with him calls out his work ethic and effort as his best asset. Mike Holmgren, who was team president at the time of Rubin’s extension, is a huge fan of Rubin. Phil Taylor, his partner on the Browns interior line, called Rubin, “One of the hardest working guys I know.” on Instagram when word broke about his deal with Seattle. He is also described as a high motor player, which is rare for a nose tackle. That kind of effort, on and off the field, does not jibe with the idea that he took it easy after he got his money.
What I see is a player that has had five different defensive coordinators in seven seasons. Rubin has only played consecutive seasons with the same coordinator twice in his career. Those coordinators have employed different flavors of 3-4, then 4-3, then 3-4 defenses along the way. Those types of changes have significant impact on the responsibilities of a defensive lineman.
Rubin played nose tackle in Rob Ryan’s 3-4. Dick Jauron switched the team to 4-3 in 2011, where Rubin played more of the 4-3 nose tackle, a la Brandon Mebane. Ray Horton came in and asked him to play defensive end in a 3-4, and then Jim O’Neil moved him back to a nose tackle in a 3-4 last season. Rubin fought through an ankle injury last year that appeared to affect him as much as anything. He missed three games along the way.
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Rubin has one interception in his career, or one more than most nose tackles. It was worth sharing the play above to demonstrate the uncommon speed, awareness and effort he can flash. He has had only one season when ProFootballFocus had him rated above 0.0 as a pass rusher, and that was 2011. This next play shows one of his 5.0 sacks from that season against Jeff Saturday and the Colts.
These are two angles of the same play (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
Rubin is not a guy who is going to penetrate much into the backfield. He collapses the pocket with a steady rush when things are going his way and gets “clean up” sacks like Jordan Hill was getting toward the end of last year or Clinton McDonald got on occasion the year before.
His run defense has been all over the map. There are definite questions about his ability to anchor the center of a 3-4 defense. He checked in at an atrocious -25.9 in rush defense from PFF in 2010 as Ryan’s nose tackle. He was at -9.6 when O’Neil asked him to do that again last year. However, put him at defensive end in a 3-4 (think Red Bryant) like Ray Horton did, and he garnered a +5.1 against the run. He was +4.6 for Dick Jauron as a 4-3 nose tackle in 2012.
That all leads me to believe Rubin has skill as a run stuffer and occasional pocket collapser when utilized correctly.
Nobody is better at identifying a player’s strengths and putting him in a position to succeed than Carroll. It certainly would be nice to have Dan Quinn’s defensive line prowess in the mix to help out, but consider this one of Travis Jones’ first tests.
The Seahawks 4-3 hybrid defense offers the coaches plenty of chances to put Rubin in different roles that he has played in the past. The only thing he really won’t be asked to do is play 3-4 nose tackle. His first job will likely be rotating with Mebane at nose, which is a 4-3 position for Seattle. Should Seattle choose to go big, they could consider putting Rubin alongside Mebane at defensive tackle, or could even put him at the 5-technique end that Bryant played with Tony McDaniel at his customary 3-technique tackle spot next to Mebane. That’s a lot of beef.
Rubin is on a one-year deal and is 28 years old. He does not have Pro Bowl upside, and may not have starter upside in this defense. He would appear to be a very intriguing rotational player who gives the team some insurance should Mebane go down, and can fill some of the role that Kevin Williams did last year.
Both McDaniel and Mebane have contracts expiring after this season as well, so the front office is setup to decide if they want any of their big fellas back, or some combination of the three.