GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Cardinals were never even supposed to get a look at Chris Hubert.
“His father, whose nickname was ‘Smoke’ was my equipment manager at NC State, so this past spring when I went back to work out a few different players in Raleigh, he asked me if I’d do him a favor and let his son from Fayetteville State jump in on the workout, so I told him it would be no problem,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “So Terry McDonough and I were there, and we watched him with John Ritch, our area scout, and we watched him move around.
“The numbers that we had, he ran a 4.72, but he looked much quicker in the workout than that. So after the workout I told him to keep working hard, and we’d talk to him at a later date. Told his dad that I don’t know if I can sign him after the draft as a free agent, but I’ll certainly bring him in as a tryout guy on a weekend. Well, the rest is history.”
Now, the Cardinals can’t seem to look away from the receiver, who played collegiately at Fayetteville State. To say the team saw that coming would be a lie.
“Very, very pleasant,” head coach Bruce Arians said of whether or not the receiver is a surprise. “He’s made plays every day. I would like to see him make them against Patrick (Peterson) and Brandon (Williams), but the guys he’s going against, he’s coming out on top every day. Every day he’s got a long touchdown catch.”
As a senior, Hubert caught 71 passes for 862 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown, and his 14 total scores led the team. Attending a small school certainly worked against him in the draft process, as did his diminutive stature.
Hubert is listed at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, and though he is on the small side for an NFL receiver, he does not see it as an issue.
“I’ve seen a lot of shorter receivers having success in the NFL recently, so I feel like that’s not even a concern like that anymore,” he said.
Hubert pointed to the Steelers’ Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who is now with the Broncos, as smaller wideouts who have had success under Arians.
“Hopefully I can get in the mix, too,” he said.
Unlikely? Perhaps. But not impossible.
As Keim said, he was brought in on a tryout basis, and it went well enough to where the team parted with another player in order to sign him to the roster. Hubert’s route to the Cardinals has been rather circuitous, but for him, the path is not nearly as important as the destination.
And now, though he’s received praise from the head coach, he knows his work is far from finished.
“It is always good to hear from the head man, so I’m just trying to get better every day so I can hopefully make the team,” Hubert said.
As good as he has been in camp, that may be a tall task. Wide receiver is a position of incredible depth for the team, and no doubt the undrafted rookie is fighting an uphill battle.
He has been climbing, though.
Injuries at the position have helped, as almost out of necessity Hubert has received a handful of reps with the first-team offense, which means early in his first training camp he has caught passes from Carson Palmer.
“I didn’t expect that,” he said. “But when your number is called you’ve got to make the plays, try to make it to 53. That’s all I’m trying to do right now.”
Hubert, who was signed on his birthday, said he’s always had confidence in himself, and never really saw himself as any kind of long shot. He noted the biggest surprise for him in camp has been having to learn the offense, along with the fact that if he does not run his route perfectly the defensive backs will be able to stay with him.
The next step for him will be staying productive in game situations against higher-caliber defenders. Do that, and that tryout he had the week after the draft may turn into a roster spot, or at least a practice squad role.
If he makes the team, he says it will be due to his ability to catch the ball and make big plays.
“Just do what I’m told when they need me,” he said.