- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The buzz that Alabama redshirt sophomore linebacker Adrian Hubbard might be leaving early for the NFL draft can be put to rest as he announced through the university that he would return for another season.
“I had a chance to take a step back and weigh my options after the championship game and I felt it was in my best interest to return next season,” Hubbard said in the news release. “I feel like I can play a bigger role as a leader on our defense and I also know I need to improve in some areas as a player before I hopefully take the next step to the NFL."
Hubbard played in all 14 games at outside linebacker this past season, starting 13. He finished with 41 total tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. His draft stock rose as he recorded a sack in each of Alabama’s final three games against Auburn, Georgia and Notre Dame. His 7 sacks ranked sixth in the SEC this season.
"We are pleased that Adrian is returning and I think that he made a good decision,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in the release. “Adrian has done a really good job for us and has continued to improve each season he’s been here. He’ll be counted on from not only a production standpoint, but also a leadership standpoint on next year’s team."
ESPN draft expert Todd McShay tweeted Monday that Hubbard had received a "favorable grade" from the draft advisory board. Friday, ESPN college football and NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl said he would have given Hubbard a second-round grade based upon what he saw late in the season.
Weidl, who said it was a good decision for Hubbard to return for another year, said the redshirt sophomore's biggest attribute was his versatility and athleticism. The former standout high school basketball player was a star at the Jack linebacker spot for Alabama, a position that requires skill to operate against the run, in coverage and rushing the passer. At 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds, Hubbard could do all that, and more.
"You see the athleticism, the length and versatility," Weidl said of Hubbard. "He's a guy that can play with his hand in the dirt, drop back and play in coverage."
Weidl pointed out that with another year in the weight room and another season of experience, Hubbard could turn into a first-round prospect.
"He needs to continue to get stronger but you do like what he's bringing in terms of versatility," he said. "You see the flashes getting after the passer, you see the athleticism in space and you see the length which is really favorable at the next level.
"He's got a chance when it's all said and done to be a first-round pick."
The addition of Hubbard gives Alabama four veteran starters who will return for 2013 season. He joins quarterback AJ McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley and offensive guard Anthony Steen in announcing they would return.
"One of my goals when I came to the University of Alabama was to earn my degree and I’m on track to graduate next December," Hubbard said. "This is a great place, I’ve got great teammates and coaches, and I’ll know when it is the right time to move on to the next level."
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough