Editor's note: Eric Crocker is a former AFL/NFL cornerback who now specializes in the defensive back position. This is part of a series in which he'll be providing a unique perspective on DB options for the 49ers.
Mike Hughes - Jr, Central Florida
Ht/wt: 5-foot-11, 191 lbs.
2017: 49 tackles, 4 INT, 11 PBU, FF
The path to the draft isn’t always a straight one, and that can be said for 2018 cornerback prospect Mike Hughes.
The three-star athlete began his collegiate career at the University of North Carolina. During his freshman season, Hughes along with a Tar Heel teammate was charged with assault for being involved in a fight. After serving a two-game suspension, Hughes took his talents to Garden City Community College where he played in a National Championship and became a junior college All-American. He then transferred to the University of Central Florida where the Knights went undefeated and claimed a National Championship.
Hughes’ play for the one season made him one of the top cornerback prospects in 2018. Some rankings have him as high as the third-best cornerback in the draft. Let’s take a look at some of the things he does well and see how he fits in with the 49ers.
The 49ers have turned to the bigger, longer corners to lead this new defense under coordinator Robert Saleh. Hughes isn’t the biggest of cornerbacks but the first thing that jumps out when watching his film is he plays with a mean streak.
It didn’t matter if it was a big body receiver or running back out the backfield, Hughes was going to be the aggressor at the point of attack.
Hughes was very comfortable in press coverage, using a couple of different techniques depending on the receiver he was facing. It’s always good to have a plan at the line of scrimmage. At times you’d see him use the “feather” or “inch” technique where you motor your feet a little more. He worked this technique often and very well by staying square and being able to mirror receivers.
UCF played a lot of off coverage. At the next level where the timing between receivers and quarterbacks will be better, Hughes will have to be able to anticipate and get out of his breaks quicker from off coverage. But for the most part, he played off coverage very well.
Hughes may not have the ball skills of Josh Jackson, cornerback out of Iowa, but he was able to have a couple fortunate balls bounce his way resulting in big plays for the Knights.
Hughes will also special teams value to an NFL team on both kickoff returns and punt returns.
Fit with 49ers:
Hughes will be taken in the first two rounds. His ultra-aggressive style of play combined with fluid hips, good feet and versatility in coverage allows him to play in multiple schemes. His ability in the return game should make him even more intriguing to NFL teams. He may not check all the boxes with what the 49ers are looking for, but he’s well-rounded enough for general manager John Lynch to be interested in taking him if he’s there in the late second round.
Media courtesy Orlando Sentinel