Jerry Hughes, TCU
A high school runningback, Jerry Hughes might be the best defensive end in all of college football, and the stats back that up.
Upon arrival at TCU in 2006, Hughes was switched to DE and has started what could potentially be a very long, productive career at a high profile position. He saw little action in 2006 but flashed his potential in 2007, playing 13 games, posting tackles in every game and finishing with 3.5 TFL (tackle for loss) and 1 sack. 2008, on the other hand, was his coming out party. 19.5 TFL, 15 sacks and countless game changing plays. His 15 sacks led the country while his 19.5 TFL tied him for 8th on his way to a Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, unanimous first team conference selection and a consensus All-American.
Hughes is listed as an end but plays like a outside linebacker. He has better speed than he is given credit for and it would not be surprising to see a 4.4 (fourty yard dash) time next to his name come February. He chases the ball like a LB and, with his offensive history, looks almost natural catching the ball and has recorded three career INT so far. He is very fluid dropping back and changing directions though his natural burst and explosion are more evident moving forward. A relentless performer who is simply overwhelming for tackles to handle, Hughes not only looks to make sacks, but looks to make plays on the ball and force fumbles. Hughes blows off the line and closes quickly, rarely failing to at least get a hand on a QB even if pushed by. By the end of 2008, Hughes faced double and triple teams and was still too much for MWC foes to handle. Hughes is a player that makes opponents change their schemes, a true game changer that will go down as one of the best to ever play.
As expected for an end that is only 255lbs, Hughes gives up size and strength to tackles but he can surprise a blocker with his natural strength. He plays strong side end for TCU but would not survive there in the pros, another factor in his high sack totals as he’s not facing the opponents best blocker every play. Needs to expand his pass rush repertoire and will likely never be an every down end.
Hughes was addded to NFL Draft Dog's NFL Draft Risers column on September 20th after a red hot start to the 2009 college football season.
There’s really not much to nitpick about Hughes, except maybe his height. He may not develop into an every down player and play defensive end, but it’s not hard to envision him being a Pro Bowl caliber LB for a 3-4 team. Hughes is a likely mid to late-first round pick because of competition questions, but if used correctly and allowed to do what he does best (destroy backfields), Hughes could be a rookie of the year candidate.