The numbers: 5101/190, 4.65 forty, 2.70 twenty, 1.55 ten, 16 reps, 28.5 vertical, 9'6 long, 4.43 shuttle, 7.28 cone
2006 stats: 37 tackles, 35 assists, 1-3 tackle for loss, 8-113-2 interception, 11 passes broken up, 1-21-0 kick return
The player: Hughes was an all-Pac-10 performer, Ronnie Lott trophy-winner at cornerback for the Bears who has excellent tackling ability, intangibles, instincts, fluidity and, especially, play-making skills. A naturally gifted athlete and great guy, Hughes has a great understanding of the position and knows zones like his own home. He's adept at getting into quarterbacks' psyches, frustrating them, jumping their routes and exploiting their errors. It's not by accident he recorded 15-344-4 interceptions and 30 pass deflections in 51 games.
He's strong and tough enough to deliver a good initial blow and throw even big receivers off their routes. Hughes enjoys breaking up screens and — a rarity in cornerbacks these days — is adept at interfering with crossing patterns. He's a rock-solid tackler who will step up against the run, can shed initial blocks and plays special teams with an ideal mentality — he'll even block the odd kick.
On film, he looks like a solid pro prospect — although he gambled a bit much and gave up a couple of long touchdown passes to future NFLers, it was nothing worse than most top CB prospects suffer. From the stands, Hughes looks like a first rounder, if not a top-15 pick.
But there's a catch. Tragically, Hughes was born without wheels. His combine numbers (and not just the dashes, but the agility drills as well) look more appropriate for a Colts' defensive lineman than a DB. While one scout clocked him as fast as 4.56, others have him as slow as 4.72. Even if you took the best forty he ran on his best day, it would still be very, very slow for the position.
Reminds me of: Al Harris, a slow-footed sixth-round pick by Tampa in 1998 who emerged as a reliable starter for Philadelphia and, later Green Bay. Colts coach Tony Dungy and at least one commercial scouting service have likened Hughes to Ronde Barber. There are some similarities, but I'd bet Barber could wake up with a hangover and still run a 4.45.
How he fits: Remember when Jason David was in college and the scouts said he would have been a first rounder if only he was three inches taller? Well, despite his minute size, David was a reliable starter from his first day as a Colt and helped the team win a Super Bowl before he signed a four-year, $15.6 million dollar contract with the Saints. That would have been an okay return on a first-round pick.
So now those same scouts are saying Hughes would have been a first-rounder if was just a step or two faster. While it's true speed is more important to a corner than height, it also should be noted that Hughes played significantly better than David on the same Pac-10 stage.
The Colts rarely ask their corners to do man coverage, especially deep, so Hughes has as good a chance to succeed in Indy as he does anywhere. While nobody expects Hughes to step in and start from Day 1 like David did, he will be expected to contribute right away.
Barring injuries or meltdowns, the top three cornerback spots will be manned by Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings (although not necessarily in that order). Hughes is likely to find his niche as a situational guy who covers slot men, H-backs and running backs on short an intermediate routes. If injuries force him to play outside, expect the Colts to cheat to his side on deep coverage.
Hughes will fight with fellow draft pick Michael Coe for the fourth cornerback spot, with the loser probably getting No. 5.
There has been some speculation that Hughes could find himself at safety, where his diagnostic skills and ballhawking ways could come in quite handy. But the Colts prefer a speedier type at safety — like Bob Sanders (4.36), Antoine Bethea (4.39), Matt Giordano (4.52) and Brannon Condren (4.42) — to help with deep coverage.
No matter where Hughes ends up on defense, expect him to be a big-time contributor on special teams, where his instincts, courage and tackling ability will be put to good use.