Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
5-foot-11, 191 pounds
Key stat: Returned four touchdowns in one season at UCF — two on kick returns, one on a punt return and one on an interception.
The skinny: North Carolina native chose to stay home and play for the Tar Heels coming out of high school. But after one season as a reserve at North Carolina in 2015, Hughes was suspended (along with teammate M.J. Stewart) and later dismissed from school for violating team rules after being involved in an incident at a fraternity house. Hughes was charged with misdemeanor assault (which was later dropped after he completed community service).
Transferred to Garden City (Kan.) Community College in 2016 and was named to first-team junior-college All-America squad after intercepting two passes and scoring three touchdowns on returns. After one season there, coach Scott Frost lured Hughes to UCF, where he received first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors as a DB and second-team honors as a returner.
Hughes declared early for the 2018 NFL draft, forgoing his senior season.
Upside: Outstanding strength — 20 reps on the bench press. Lot of pop packed into stocky build. Athletic traits are pretty clear right away when watching him. Physical press corner who likes to send a message to receivers he’s covering. Isn’t afraid or unwilling to play the run. Comes up and strikes ball carriers without fear. Closes quickly.
Watch Hughes mirror Memphis WR Anthony Miller (a top-100 prospect) in man coverage and cross his face for the pass breakup on the slant in the end zone:
Good short-area quickness and change-of-direction skills. Experience with both press-man and zone coverage. Can flip his hips and run. Strong special-teams value as punt and kick returner. Averaged whopping 31.8 yards on 20 kickoff returns in 2017 (two TDs) and 16.6 yards on 14 punt returns (one TD). Also scored touchdown on INT return — dangerous and aggressive with ball in his hands. Seemed to make his impact clearly felt in almost every game in 2017. Strong ball skills and body control in the air. Attacks the ball like a receiver.
Downside: Character issues must be vetted thoroughly. Dismissal from UNC will require NFL teams to do extra homework on his character, even though Frost and other UCF coaches signed off on him after joining their program.
Below-average height, arm length, hand size — barely meets some teams’ minimums for outside CB spot. Doesn’t possess blazing, straight-line speed to completely compensate for his size. Doesn’t appear as effective in “off” coverage. Can get caught looking too long into the backfield in zone coverage and be a little casual. Occasionally gets flat-footed at the top of receivers’ stems and vulnerable to strong route running.
It’s a poor throw here from Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham, but watch as Hughes gives his man just a little too much space versus the in-cut in press-bail technique:
Limited FBS experience — 10 games as reserve at UNC, 13 games at UCF. Still raw in overall technique and could use more time to percolate as defender. Tackling technique needs some refinement. Will dive at ankles and fly in recklessly to make a play.
Best-suited destination: Hughes is a feisty, instinctive corner whose special-teams value likely will be his calling card as he works his way into a starting role on defense. Assuming they sign off on his character, clubs that potentially could use his skill set include the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.
Quotable: “Was thought to be a 4.3 guy. Scouts were disappointed.” — College DB coach who spoke to scouts after Hughes’ combine workout
Player comp: Leodis McKelvin
Expected draft range: Top-50 pick
50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst