Hughes Out Of Trouble, On The Line
Selection: Fifth round, 139th overall
Position/size: Defensive tackle/6 ft. 4 1/2 in., 338 lbs.
Collegiate awards: 2012 All-America second-team honors from The Sports Network, 2012 All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team selection, Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week and CFPA National Defensive Lineman of the Week in 2011 after performance against Eastern Illinois (10 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery)
Strengths: Hughes is a massive dude with the perfect body to be a run-stuffing 3-4 nose tackle. He’s got great upper body strength and good power in the legs. He’s got really good agility and balance for a 330 pound behemoth. Hughes also shows a knack for getting off of snaps quickly to gain an initial advantage. He can spin off of blocks to chase down ball-carriers away from him and he can use his hands really well to shed blockers. He also is extremely durable – he never missed a game in college due to injury. His talent alone would suggest he should have been selected earlier than the fifth round.
Weaknesses: It’s Hughes’ character that raises the biggest red flag. He arrived at Tennessee a semester late and was suspended for one game in 2010 because of academic problems. He also was suspended twice from team activities during the offseason and he was dismissed from Tennessee after an on-campus altercation, forcing a transfer to Tennessee-Martin. In addition, coaches at Tennessee questioned his work ethic and passion. On the field, Hughes uses his hands inconsistently, struggles with endurance, has very little of a pass-rushing game and struggles to make plays outside the box. He also can try too hard to get a good jump on the snap, resulting in a lot of offsides penalties.
Best case scenario: Most importantly, Hughes continues to stay out of trouble as he has since transferring to Tennessee-Martin. The Colts’ offseason program whips him into shape and he becomes more productive as a result. He might not start, but he is a vital piece in the defensive line rotation, which grooms him to become the starting nose tackle of the future.
Worst case scenario: Making a nice chunk of change gets to Hughes’ head, and he reverts back to his Tennessee days. He gets in trouble off the field and becomes complacent, making his stamina and passion dwindle. He’ll likely make the roster no matter how training camp goes, but he eventually gets cut during the season when the Colts realize he’s not worth the trouble.
Realistic expectations: As previously stated, Hughes has stayed out of trouble over the past two years. It appears his off-the-field problems are behind him, so his passion and work ethic are the only intangible question marks that remain. His biggest weakness on the field is pass-rushing, but a 3-4 nose tackle is rarely asked to sack the quarterback: that’s what the outside linebackers are for. Given all of this, Hughes should be expected to make solid contributions as a rookie, he just needs to stay in shape and committed. He shouldn’t be expected to start this year and maybe not even next as he’ll be facing a lot competition at nose tackle in Josh Chapman, Aubrayo Franklin, Brandon McKinney and Martin Tevaseu. He most likely will start out as part of the defensive line rotation and should eventually become a solid piece.
Quotes: GM Ryan Grigson (via Colts.com): “He can move like a cat. There are just very few human beings who have that ability. In this defense, he played all three spots. He knocked everyone’s socks off (in a visit), looked everyone in the eye and made a great impression. Every draft, every year, you find very small handfuls of athletes that are this big and can bend, accelerate, decelerate and move laterally like this guy can.”
Siegel High guidance counselor Renee Martin (via Tennessean.com): “It took a lot of maturing. I think being kicked off the Tennessee football team was one of the best things that could have happened to him. To see his maturity level rise and his confidence rise since then has been wonderful. He has guardian angels watching over him. He’s determined and focused.”
Hughes (via Tennessean.com): “It’s a blessing. As a kid, you dream about the opportunity to play in the NFL. To be able to live that dream is a blessing.”