Mike Hughes – CB
School: University of Central Florida
Weight: 191 lbs.
Mike Hughes NFL Draft Profile
Mike Hughes is without a doubt one of the top corners in this year’s draft thanks to his aggressive style of play at the line and his speed that will undoubtedly allow him to keep up with some of the fastest receivers in the NFL. The problem is he also has several red flags that some see him slipping into the second round.
The first, and probably most significant concern, is Hughes’ past legal troubles. After his freshman season with the North Carolina Tar Heels, Hughes and another cornerback on the team were charged with assault after beating up two fraternity members. After spending a year at a junior college, he played one season at UCF before declaring for the draft.
The second red flag is his size. The NFL is seeing a type of revolution at the cornerback position in which the new standard for the position is 6’0” or taller and Hughes is most certainly not that. He measured at the combine at 5’11” and 191 lbs. but his physical style of play more than makes up for his size so this shouldn’t cause his stock to slip too much.
I spoke with a source associated with the UCF football team who said Mike Hughes wasn’t a character concern for the team and in fact was a positive locker room presence for the Knights during his time there. So assuming Hughes interviewed well at the combine regarding those concerns, it is more than likely he will go in the 15-32 range or early second round in the draft when all is said and done. He ended his year with UCF with 44 tackles, four interceptions (including one pick-six) and 11 pass breakups which earned him first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors.
The most universally acclaimed skill Mike Hughes has is his physicality at the line of scrimmage which makes him one of the best press corners in this year’s draft. His toughness stops routes completely which prevents the danger of pressing which is a receiver getting off the jam after a couple of seconds. If a team needs to take a receiver completely out of a play, Hughes is more than able to do this. This increases his chances of being drafted high as he can be a valuable nickel back for a team as he develops into a full-time starter.
This physicality extends to the running game as well. Hughes has an excellent ability to get off blocks and pursue ball carriers which will help stymy outside run plays or screen passes. This will be especially helpful against teams like the Eagles and Patriots who use running backs by committee and utilize receiving backs heavily.
While a 4.53 40-yard time at the combine isn’t a time that will blow you away and it was a time that put Mike Hughes in the middle of the pack with defensive backs, his tape shows game speed that will be valuable when covering receivers up top.
UCF utilized his speed by tapping him as their return man in which he finished second-team All-AAC honors. Hughes scored twice on 20 kick returns and once on 13 punt returns. His ability as a returner will translate to the pros so a team is essentially drafting two positions when they select Hughes, increasing his value even more.
The old saying is you take a receiver who can’t catch and put them at defensive back. Hughes has just as good of hands as his receiver counterparts. His catching skills are complemented by his ability to shift his body to help make the interception as well. Hughes could’ve easily been a two-way receiver and corner for UCF because of his ball skills.
His time as a returner has also helped him turn those interceptions into scores or good field position. His field vision after the pick makes any turnover to Hughes a potentially game-changing one.
As stated above, Hughes played well in a rotational role for the Tar Heels during his freshman season but his career at UNC was cut short when he was charged with misdemeanor assault after participating in a fight with fraternity members. Hughes was kicked off the team and had to play a year at junior college before returning to Division I play.
Hughes has had a clean record ever since that incident but NFL teams will obviously be concerned with it nonetheless. While he was a good locker room presence at UCF, there are certain teams that will move him down their draft boards citing the incident.
The word “raw” doesn’t fit here because Hughes possesses all of the abilities a corner needs to succeed at the next level but his inexperience is something that many are noting as a top concern. Mike Hughes only played one year and never started a game for UNC and his time with the Knights was only one season as a full-time starter.
Hughes could’ve had an up-year and it’s no secret that quarterbacks like Jake Locker and arguably Sam Darnold have harmed their draft status by returning for another year after being touted as near-universal first overall picks. It’s not much different for the cornerback position. There is a fear that Hughes is a one-year wonder and could be prioritized over more experienced backs as a result.
While his physical play does make up for a large portion of the troubles his size could cost him at the next level, Hughes’ 5’11” frame will limit him in deep coverage. If he had to go against a physically-dominant number one receiver like Julio Jones or A.J. Green, the potential for them to jump over him for the catch is an unfortunate likelihood. This will likely prevent him from ever being a true shutdown corner but he still has the potential to be a valuable piece used to shut down the slot or number two receiver.
Mike Hughes has some very legitimate concerns with his size and inexperience as a starter but his physical attributes make him a contender for one of the top-five best cornerbacks in this year’s draft. His ability as an effective returner also adds another aspect to his value as many point out special teams as one of the most significant aspects to win games.
Hughes’ physical ability to stop a receiver near the line of scrimmage, along with his ability to keep up with receivers, is exactly the skillset an NFL team wants in a corner and promises the coaches won’t have to waste time teaching him the basics. While the character concerns and size downsides will likely hurt his draft stock more than anything, Hughes is a first-round talent who could end up being a steal for a team in the early second round.
NFL Player Comparison
Teams With Need At Cornerback
Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New York Giants (2nd round)
New England Patriots