Name: Mike Hughes
School: Central Florida
Although a little undersized for the typical outside corner, Hughes makes up for it with a solid build and play strength. He finished second among corners in the bench at the combine with 20 reps, and it shows on the field. He uses a strong punch and aggression to win battles at the line of scrimmage. Though his lack of height allows him to get high-pointed by bigger receivers, Hughes never gets out-muscled.
Hughes has virtually every athletic tool: Recovery speed, change of direction, strength and leaping ability. He scored among the best in most combine drills, and outside of Jaire Alexander, may be the best overall athlete at his position in this year’s class.
This facet of Hughes’ game will likely get him drafted a little higher than his body of work may merit. His breakaway speed helped him rack up over 30 yards per kick return, 16 yards per punt return and three total touchdowns in 2017. That alone will make him useful immediately.
In close to every coverage metric, Hughes rated among the best corners in the nation in 2017, his lone season as a starter in FBS. He was burned on just 36.8 percent of coverage snaps, according to STATS, and faced only 57 targets the entire year. Hughes primarily wins his battles with physicality. He starts in press coverage more often than not, disrupting the route off the snap. He also has outstanding acceleration, allowing him to break on the ball and recover when he gets beat. His read-and-react could improve, as he simply has too little high level game action under his belt. That includes both route recognition and his mirror footwork. As an upside talent, however, Hughes is one of the elite of the draft class.
The old adage is players become defensive backs instead of receivers because they are either too small or cannot catch. Hughes is definitely the former. Though he lacks height, he has the tracking and leaping ability to challenge jump balls and the soft hands to make tough catches in traffic. He also has quick burst to bait and undercut routes. Hughes’ only limitation in this area at the next level will be the six-inch advantage he will give up to some of the top receivers.
The question for the Vikings with their first round pick is will they draft their biggest need (offensive line) or go best player available. Hughes has generally been considered an early second round pick, but the Vikings did host him as one of their top-30 meetings this past week. With other corner prospects like Alexander, Isaiah Oliver and Denzel Ward shooting up draft boards, it seems less likely that Hughes would last far enough into the second for the Vikings to select him there without a trade. As such, there appears to be interest in him as the 30th overall pick on the Vikings’ end.
Hughes immediately fits onto the roster for two reasons. One, his return abilities may be tops in the class and would give veteran Marcus Sherels a break from all kick return duties. Two, Hughes has the versatility to move inside and outside in coverage. While his play style and experience are primarily as an outside cover, he has manned the slot at times and has the quickness and aggressiveness to play there on a regular basis. Plus, with Trae Waynes in a prove-it contract year, Hughes would give the Vikings leverage should Waynes under-perform. At its essence, the drafting of Hughes would fill an immediate need, but more so would add a play-maker with coverage upside.
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