Colts linebacker Jerry Hughes shedding dreaded ‘bust’ label
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If someone mentioned the name Jerry Hughes last season, you wouldn’t have to wait long to hear the collective groans of Colts fans from miles and miles away.
Drafted 31st overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, Hughes was selected by the Bill Polian regime to be the Colts’ third pass-rusher. He could wreak havoc on third-down, and when Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney took a play off, Hughes would replace them and provide a favorable result. Hughes was expected to be the Colts pass-rusher of the future.
Yet after only two years as a pro, Hughes was lucky just to make the Colts’ 53-man roster.
In two seasons, Hughes accumulated 21 tackles and one sack. That’s right, one sack. For a first-round pick that had 15 sacks as a junior and 11.5 as a senior at Texan Christian University, this was laughable. The infamous “bust” label had been attached to Hughes, and rightfully so.
But was it Hughes’ fault?
When Hughes entered the 2010 NFL Draft, his physical makeup fit the model of a linebacker at the next level, much like LaMarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hughes lacked the size and strength that you’d see in a prototypical NFL defensive end, but possessed impressive speed, quickness, and athleticism that made him a perfect candidate for the 3-4 outside linebacker role.
Unfortunately for Hughes, the Colts ignored what virtually every talent evaluator had identified, and as a result, we saw Hughes in struggling immensely in a two-point stance. He had gone from a top college prospect to a “project player.”
But then in 2011, the unthinkable happened: Peyton Manning never played a snap, the Colts won just two games, and the organization was blown up from top-to-bottom. Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was hired to replace Jim Caldwell and the Colts switched to a hybrid 3-4 defense.
Hughes’ was in luck.
In this new defensive philosophy, Hughes was cast into the role that most had envisioned for him coming out of TCU. Fast forward to Week Eight, and Hughes is not only having his best year as a pro, but one of the better years of any 3-4 OLB. In other words, we’ve seen a new Jerry Hughes—consistent and legitimate.
Hughes is currently rated second among all pass-rushers and sixth overall out of 30 for 3-4 OLB, while Mathis is 11th (among 3-4 OLB) and Freeney is 22nd, according to ProFootballFocus.com’s overall player grades. Hughes also has 19 tackles through six games, which is only two less than the 21 he had in his previous two seasons combined. Add on two stacks, and it’s hard not to wonder what the TCU product could have done if he was in year three of this defense.
So, in a tumultuous offseason, which resulted in a completely transformed Colts team, Hughes appears to be making a transformation of his own. He’s steadily distancing himself from the embarrassing title that is a NFL bust. He’s being reborn.
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