Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU
Height and Weight: 6'2, 255 lbs
After beginning his college career at running back, Hughes made the switch to defensive end halfway through his freshman season. He started sparingly as a sophomore, but played primarily in a situational role. That year he finished with 29 tackles and 1 sack. The following year however, was his breakout year, when he finished with 52 tackles and 15 sacks. His senior year he won the Lott Trophy (top defender) and Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end) and finished with 58 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Even with opponents game-planning against Hughes, he still managed to finished with a double digit sack total for the second straight year.
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Projected Round: Bottom 1st
Hughes greatly improved his draft stock with an impressive combine, recording a 4.58 40-yard dash at 6'2, 255 pounds. On top of his pure athleticism, Hughes has great instincts on the field. He had a nose for the ball at TCU and contains the edge of the defensive line very well. He also has the strength to get off tight end or full back blocks and has the recovery speed to catch backs that are five or six yards ahead of him. Hughes has enough speed to hang with backs or tight ends and can recognise where the ball is thrown to make a play on the ball. He's an explosive tackler with a wide wingspan and has the form to properly wrap up backs. He'll often go for the chop to force a turnover and is exceptional in space, often wrapping up the most elusive backs. Hughes is a violent pass rusher, who uses his explosive speed to get to the quarterback. He's a bull rusher and will fight even through triple teams. Hughes was a great teammate at TCU and the coaches loved his work ethic. He plays with a fiery attitude till the whistle blows.
Although Hughes speed was impressive at the combine, he hasn't shown the elite speed with the pads on. He's undersized to play defensive end full time and will get pushed around when teams run the ball at him. He needs to vary his pass rush techniques. He'll get caught up in the offensive line when trying to twist and he needs to learn to slap away the offensive lineman's hands to be effective in the NFL. Hughes has little experience dropping into zones and doesn't have sideline to sideline speed.
The biggest question mark surrounding Hughes is if he can make the switch to linebacker. If the Cardinals are going to consider drafting Hughes with the 26th overall pick, then they'll need to be sure he can make the transition. Hughes has already stated that he'd like to make the move, but preferably in a 4-3 defense since he's used to playing with his hand on the ground. If other options are off the board at that time, taking Hughes and converting him to an outside linebacker may be too tempting for the Cardinals to pass on.
When you look over his resume, his size and speed are rare, and his amazing work ethic means he could develop into a monster and leader on the defense. With Chike Okeafor gone and Bertrand Berry retiring, now is the time for the Cardinals to draft an outside linebacker of the future. Hughes can be a viable linebacker and could reach the double digit sack mark the Cardinals have lacked since 2004. What are your thoughts on Hughes and should the Cardinals draft him at 26?