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NFL Draft Prospect Roundup: UCF Cornerback Mike Hughes

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The arms race in the NFC is ramping up to unprecedented levels. With a slew of trades and eye-popping signings, the Los Angeles Rams have continued to add to their playoff-caliber roster, including their newest move for New England Patriots WR Brandin Cooks. Shipping their 23rd overall pick and 6th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Patriots for Cooks and a 4th, the Rams have boosted their already solid receiving core. The Philadelphia Eagles may look to counteract the signing by upgrading their secondary early in the draft.

The need for a strong nickel cornerback is obvious when you look at how offenses have evolved. In 2010, teams used 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) only 40% of the time. That number has ascended each year since, culminating in a current league average of 60%.

In 2017, teams used personnel groupings with at least three wide receivers 63% of the time, with the Rams leading the way with a staggering 84%. The Dallas Cowboys (65%), New York Giants (71%), and the Washington Redskins (66%) all came in over league average, increasing the need for counter-weapons in the Eagles defensive secondary.

One of those counter-weapons could be UCF cornerback Mike Hughes, who the Eagles brought in for an official visit. Hughes ended his high school career by leading New Bern to two 4A State Titles as a quarterback before signing on with North Carolina as a 4 star recruit despite offers from bigger programs like Ohio State, Florida and Clemson. He played 11 games for the Tar Heels in 2015 before an altercation at a fraternity led to his suspension and ultimate departure. Hughes was charged with one count of misdemeanor assault and the charges were dropped after he completed his 100 hours of community service.

The next step in his journey took him to Garden City Community College, where he collected honors as a NJCAA All-American while helping his team win the junior national title in 2016. He contributed at corner, slot receiver and returner, showing off his versatility in what would serve as an audition for his redemption. Another bump in the road derailed his commitment to South Carolina, this time it was his inability to finish his associates degree in time to enroll. This led to his one-year stint with the UCF Golden Knights in 2017.

Despite not joining the program until August, he acclimated quickly and won the job as starting outside for UCF. Success on the field continued for Hughes, as the Golden Knights exceeded expectations with a 13-0 season. He amassed 4 interceptions, 15 pass breakups, a forced fumble and 4 total return touchdowns (2 kick returns, 1 punt return, 1 INT return). According to Pro Football Focus, when quarterbacks targeted Hughes, they turned in a paltry 43.8 QB rating.

Looking at Hughes’ physical and athletic profile, he’s another smallish corner at the top of this crop that has made the best of his size deficiencies with transition skills and precise footwork. He’s comfortable and explosive when click and closing downfield, while being able to make quick man turns and carry vertical routes comfortably. At the line, he’s violent with his hands, patient with his feet, and sticky/physical throughout the route stem. His propensity to disrupt receivers will lead to flags early in his career as he adjusts to life in the NFL, but his competitiveness and playmaking ability should trump any concerns.

Here’s what the media is saying about Hughes:


“He had three touchdown returns last season. After playing at North Carolina in 2015 and a junior college in 2016, Hughes doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he emerged as a shutdown corner and important player for the Knights in 2017.”


“Hughes simply hasn’t had the game experience he needs to put together the consistency in coverage that teams might like to see. He’s a projection-based prospect who has shown twitch, ball production and toughness in a small sample size. Despite being a little short, he is likely to stay outside in coverage. While teams wait for him to gain coverage experience, they can certainly lean on his tremendous talents as a return man. Hughes has potential, but there is still work to be done in coverage.”


“Hughes is a fluid, agile cornerback prospect with the versatility to play inside or outside. He has good size and excels in press coverage, where he incorporates a two-hand jam and rarely allows a free release. He has very quick feet… From off coverage, Hughes has a fluid pedal and shows some pop out of his plant/drive. He’s rarely out of phase in coverage, but when he is, he has the speed to recover. His ball awareness is excellent. He isn’t a physical tackler, but he goes low and gets the ball carrier on the ground…Overall, Hughes is an outstanding cover cornerback and he’s ready to start right away at the next level.”


“Hughes is super aggressive, which can hurt him with penalties, missed jams, and lunges (in both Press and Off), but he has the best recovery speed of anyone in this class. He can get back in position in a split second and make a play on the football. Will this kind of play be consistent in the NFL? No, but he proved at UCF that he has the traits to be a shutdown cornerback in this league.”


“Denzel Ward just nudged past Mike Hughes for my CB2 spot. I liked Hughes’ film better, but Ward put up exceptional numbers (at 183 lbs). They’d flip-flop depending on how you deploy your coverage men: off-man, Ward takes the cake; press-man, Hughes is the better player.”


“He should be a good NFL starter that should contribute right away and make a case for Defensive ROY. Can also bring tremendous value as a contributor on kickoff and punt returns.”


“Despite lacking ideal size for a press-man cornerback, Hughes competes with the mentality and mirror skills to be a lock-down cover man.”


“CB Mike Hughes is an attractive man to man corner with the ability to start and effectively play up in the face of receivers in the NFL. Hughes has great aggression on the boundary but will need to sure up tackling issues to reach ceiling as a top starter.”

Overall, Hughes is a physical press-man corner that may have to kick inside to nickel at the next level, but his athletic traits and play-making ability will allow him to make impact early in his career. He’s worthy of mid-to-late first round consideration.

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