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NFL Draft prospect to know: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

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Will the Cowboys spend another premium pick in the secondary?

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Auburn v Central Florida Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Blogging The Boys will take a look at some of the NFL Draft prospects that will be in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Some weeks, we will look at potential targets that will be within the Cowboys’ expected draft range. Others, we will highlight some of the elite members of the class.

Mock drafts are picking up more and more steam. Todd McShay, The CBS Sports crew, Mel Kiper Jr. and a hundred others are constantly releasing updated mock drafts. Some make more sense than others, but all of them get fans talking and discussing who they want their favorite team to pick come April.

Our own Dave Halprin rounded up all of the mock drafts and made a post on it earlier this week. The trendy names for the Cowboys include Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Daron Payne and wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

After weeks of Maurice Hurst overload, this week’s mock draft tracker finally starts seeing a little more variety. If you’re a fan of a couple of Alabama players, then you will be pleased to see their names showing up a little more. Both Da’Ron Payne and Calvin Ridley get some love in the tracker this week. Payne, and Vita Vea, are two fan-favorites to fit the Cowboys need for a true 1-tech defensive tackle.

If Ridley slides this far after weeks of going higher in almost every draft, the Cowboys would have to pounce, one would think. Fellow WR Christian Kirk also gets a few supporters this week, mainly because his speed could loosen up defenses.

The vast majority of Dallas Cowboys fans seem to prefer the front office to continue building a defense that looked more and more impressive over the last few weeks of the 2017 NFL season, but Alabama star Calvin Ridley appears to be one of the only exceptions. Dallas, of course, took Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis with its first three selections

If the Cowboys want to continue building the defense, or more specifically the secondary, here is a candidate that is rising up draft boards.

Mike Hughes — cornerback, UCF Knights

5-foot-11
185
Junior

Central Florida v SMU
Knight is rising up draft boards
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

UCF cornerback Mike Hughes is one of the more interesting prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Hughes, a North Carolina native, is among the best defensive backs in an impressive class, but his route to the 2018 draft did not come without any bumps in the road.

The North Carolina native was rated a three-star prospect in the class of 2015, choosing the North Carolina Tar Heels over the Florida Gators, Clemson Tigers, N.C. State Wolfpack, and numerous others programs, after leading his high school to a perfect 15-0 record and winning MVP honors in the 4A State Title. As a freshman, Hughes appeared in ten games for the ‘Heels. He totaled 11 total tackles in the 2015 season, ten of which were solo — showing he is not afraid to make tackles. Hughes also deflected three passes as a true freshman.

Unfortunately, though, off-the-field mistakes prevented Hughes from reaching his potential for his home-state school. In 2015, Hughes was suspended “amid misdemeanor assault charges” at a frat house near UNC’s campus. Hughes then decided to leave the program prior to the 2016 season.

A UNC official confirmed to the New Bern Sun Journal that Hughes is no longer a member of the Tar Heels football program. “Personal reasons” were cited for Hughes’ separation from the team.

In October, Hughes was charged with one count of misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury while a teammate, fellow defensive back M.J. Stewart with one count of misdemeanor assault and battery. The fight that led to the arrest and charges stemmed from an incident at a frat house; the alleged victims went to police Thursday, 11 days after the incident, to inform them that they had decided to press charges.

In mid-October, Hughes and Stewart were indefinitely suspended. Hughes ended up serving a two-game suspension.

Hughes transferred to Kansas junior college Garden City Community College for his sophomore season. There, Hughes excelled for a program that went onto post an undefeated ranking and beat Arizona Western C.C. in the NJCAA National Championship game.

The former Tar Heel was one of the nation’s best JUCO defensive backs during the 2016 campaign — recording 47 total tackles (40 solo) and two interceptions. Hughes was named a first team NJCAA All-American, and he signed with Scott Frost and UCF over reported offers from the Missouri Tigers and the TCU Horned Frogs.

Following his signing with the Knights, Hughes’ high school coach Bobby Curling called the defensive back the “pound-for-pound, the best high school player” that he’s ever coached. He also called him a “future NFL Draft pick”.

“I’ve coached high school football for 27 years,” said Bobby Curling, head coach at New Bern (N.C.) High and Hughes’ former high school coach, “and had four players go on to the NFL. And Mike Hughes is, pound-for-pound, the best high school football player I have ever coached.”

Hughes immediately became an impact player for the 13-0 Knights — the second consecutive, and third since his senior year of high school, team that posted an undefeated record. Along with linebacker Shaquem Griffin, Hughes emerged as a leader for the Knights. In 2017, Hughes recorded 49 total tackles (37 solo), forced a fumble, and flew all over the field. He also displayed excellent coverage skills while making plays on the ball — intercepting four passes and deflecting 11.

To add to his stats as a defensive back, Hughes also proved to be a solid kick returner — returning 20 kickoffs for 635 yards (31.8 ypr average) for two scores. He added 233 yards and a touchdown on 14 punt returns. You know Jason Garrett and staff love players that are able to contribute on special teams.

What do the experts say?

Following a stellar junior campaign, the Carolina native opted to forgo his senior season and instead enter his name into the NFL Draft. The talented defensive back has begun to rise on draft boards, even on the first-round radar.

America loves a redemption story. And Hughes is on the path from disgraced cornerback to potential first-round pick.

Hoping to return to the FBS level, Hughes enrolled at UCF last August and enjoyed a productive five months in Orlando. Despite joining the program just two weeks before the season opener, he quickly found the field and developed into one of the best cornerbacks in the country, posting 15 passes defended and four interceptions. Hughes also shined on special teams as the first player in school history to return a punt, kickoff and interception for a touchdown in a season.

The Cowboys invested premium draft picks in the cornerback position last season, but there is a realistic scenario where Hughes might be the best player on the draft board at pick No. 19. And although he does his best work in press coverage, Hughes has the mentality and athleticism to mirror receivers and be a lock-down corner in zone or man, making him tough to pass up for the Cowboys.

  • In addition to both Miller and Brugler, ESPN’s Kiper has some positive thoughts on Hughes — having the Buffalo Bills taking the UCF corner just two picks after the Cowboys are currently scheduled to go on the clock.

“With back-to-back picks here, could the Bills try to package these and move up for a quarterback? It would take both picks – and more – to get into the top 10. Hughes fills a big need opposite 2017 first-round pick Tre’Davious White, and he’s a great punt and kick returner, too. 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.”

  • Furthermore, Daniel Jeremiah released a mock draft last month. He has the Packers selecting Hughes in the top-15.

Hughes has outstanding fluidity and ball skills. His upside is very enticing.

If Malcolm Butler is on his way out, the Patriots will have some options at cornerback even if a team moves ahead of them to target the position. Hughes is at his best when he can press at the line and use his size to make a play on the ball.


Overall, Mike Hughes appears to be a highly talented prospect. Assuming he has gotten past the off-the-field mistakes that plagued his early career, Hughes is the kind of a player that can grow into a big-time corner on the NFL level. The Central Florida star possesses quickness, elite fluid hips, and has shown that he can make both tackles and plays on the ball.

Adding a player of Hughes caliber to a young secondary consisting of Lewis, Awuzie, and Xavier Woods — combined with Kris Richard’s coaching — and the Cowboys may soon have a Legion of Boom of their own. Intriguing, to say the least.

Hughes is certainly a prospect that the Cowboys should highly consider with the 19th pick of the draft. If the team feels that they can get him a little later, trading back would not be a bad idea. Either way, Hughes appears to be a prospect worth a first-round selection.



What do you think, BTB?

*Stats gathered from sports-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

Catch up with our previous installments below!

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Austin Bryant, DE Clemson

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Tarvarus McFadden, CB Florida State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Martinas Rankin, OL Mississippi State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Daron Payne, DT, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Derwin James, Safety, Florida State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Ronnie Harrison, Safety, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Deontay Burnett, WR, USC

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

NFL Draft Prospect to know: Vita Vea, DT, Washington Huskies

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State