The Vikings made a little bit of a surprise pick at #30 last night in drafting CB Mike Hughes. But it was only a surprise if you didn’t know the offensive linemen the Vikings hoped would fall to them at the end of the first-round didn’t make it past #20.
It also was not a surprise, given who was available at #30, that the Vikings chose Mike Hughes, who was according to Rick Spielman, the highest ranked player on their board when they went on the clock. Spielman also said that while there had been some potential trade calls a few picks before they went on the clock, no offer materialized so the Vikings made their pick.
Hughes was pegged to be a mid-to-late first round prospect, and in a group of 4 CBs roughly tied as the 2nd best CB prospect after Denzel Ward (Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Carlton Davis are the others).
So what does Hughes bring to the Vikings? Let’s take a look.
CB Mike Hughes Breakdown
The first thing I’ll mention about Hughes is where he will contribute most this coming season- as a kick and punt returner. He was the highest graded returner in this year’s draft class according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Spielman also mentioned they were disappointed in their return production last year, so yes, this pick spells the end for the previously un-cuttable Marcus Sherels, now 30 years old- but who’s had a good run after 7 seasons with the Vikings.
Watching Hughes’ highlight reel, he’s the type of kick return man you like to see- north-south runner, good vision, quick cut or two, and he’s off. As a punt returner he does well also, not as north-south, but good vision and speed.
As a corner, the main knock on Hughes (other than being a little undersized at 5’10”+ and 190lbs.) is that he really only has basically a year’s worth of production at UCF. But what he has is really pretty impressive- and he has upside as well.
In terms of coverage, there isn’t a particular weak spot in Hughes’ game. He is good in press coverage, and in off-coverage. He’s good all over the route tree, including ‘go’ routes, where you’d expect a smaller corner who ran a 4.53” 40 to struggle a bit more. But that was his best route to defend. That speaks to his ball skills, awareness and play speed.
Indeed, Hughes’ overall success in coverage stems from his ability to explode out of his break- something Zimmer identified as key in his evaluation of cornerbacks. All this bodes well for his future success in the NFL.
Where Hughes has struggled in college is in run defense. Unlike Jaire Alexander, who seemed to avoid contact when he could, Hughes has demonstrated the strength and toughness to be effective in run defense, if not the technique as a tackler. This will be an area for coaching and developing, but is not the concern deficiencies in coverage are at the position.
Hughes will have to adjust to how Zimmer likes his corners to do things (and he mentioned he does his press coverage differently than he likes, for example), learn the Vikings coverage scheme (which isn’t easy either) and solidify his game in many areas to make the leap to the NFL from UCF. That will take time - as we’ve seen from the other first-round corners the Vikings have taken in recent years.
But depending on how he progresses compared to MacKenzie Alexander, he could challenge for the slot CB starting job, but given he hasn’t played there much in college, that seems a bit unlikely, especially if Terence Newman returns as well, but not out of the question.
In any case, Hughes will add depth to the Vikings secondary, which seldom goes a whole season without a starter or two missing some games, and that will be important for the Vikings moving forward. It’s not out of the question that he could play free safety either, or a dime package CB. But most likely he could challenge for the nickel job, and hopefully progress to be a solid backup anywhere he’s needed in the short term.