During the 2013 draft, Ryan Grigson traded a 2014 fourth-round pick to Cleveland for a 2013 fifth-round selection. And the football intelligentsia cringed and wrung their hands and demanded to know why Grigson would move into a lower slot with only the pseudo-return of using the pick a year earlier to show for it.
Grigson spent the pick on Montori Hughes, a massive (6’4”, 335 lbs.), talented defensive lineman who got kicked out of Tennessee and finished his college career at Tennessee-Martin (fun fact: Zac Stacy was drafted 19 picks later). Chuck Pagano declared during training camp that Hughes was “going to be special.”
Then Hughes didn’t play for the first eight weeks. Whoops.
I took a look at Hughes for this piece, the first in a series we’re calling The Dregs of the Roster, where I’ll look at the lesser known players who will fill out the back end of the team next year and could end up playing important roles.
Hughes played just 74 snaps in 2013, per Pro Football Focus. He exclusively played nose tackle in the first Texans game and the Rams game, then didn’t play for a few weeks, then rotated in as a defensive end and occasional nose tackle against the Bengals and in the second Texans game before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve. PFF gave him a 0.5 overall rating, including 1.2 in run defense and -1.0 in pass rush. In other words, he was almost exactly league-average, with an unimpressive pass rush performance but some good run stopping.
Hughes flashed potential at times, particularly at nose tackle. On this Ben Tate run, he tallied his first NFL tackle as he recognized a cut block, dropped his feet back, gathered himself to square up and launched into Tate’s thighs.
Recognizing and reacting to a cut block that quickly is not easy, particularly for a 335-lb. man. Grigson once said Hughes moves “like a cat,” and he is indeed tremendously quick for his size. The Colts’ clearly love his mobility, as they left him singled up in coverage on speedy ex-Colt Deji Karim once in the second Texans game:
Bjoern Werner sacked Case Keenum a moment later, so, sadly, we’ll never know what might have happened if Karim had caught a dumpoff.
As you would expect for such a huge man, Hughes is also powerful. Though he never got to the quarterback last year, he generated decent interior push in the first Texans game. The blue lines in the shots below represent the original line of scrimmage. Notice how off-balance the center is in the latter two images:
That first Texans game was by far Hughes’ best performance, both in my eyes and in PFF’s grading system. His pressure was sporadic in the other three games he played.
Hughes often found himself blocked out of the play in the other games, especially by the Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth, who took him to school a couple times, including on this Giovani Bernard run:
The Bengals game was definitely his worst performance, while the Rams game and the second Texans games were mediocre. Hughes came up with a couple tackles in the Rams game, the second of which provides a glimpse of what he could be if he reaches his potential. He diagnoses the run quickly, shoves the center aside and grabs the aforementioned Zac Stacy; though he slides down Stacy’s leg, he’s able to hold onto his ankle and make the tackle:
Note: Apologies for the poor angle. NFL Game Rewind wasn’t loading the All-22 film at the time of publication.- KJR
Though Hughes’ maturity and effort level were reportedly in question before the draft, I didn’t see him quitting on any plays. He consistently played to the whistle and battled to recover when initially blocked, as in another play in the Rams game, when he is pushed back by a double team but escapes it to make the tackle:
The lofty praise Grigson and Pagano threw at Hughes before the season suggested he would be an immediate playmaker. That didn’t happen, and when he finally got on the field, he was invisible more often than not. But there’s reason for optimism. Hughes is as powerful and quick as advertised, and his effort level and awareness look good. He also didn’t make many glaring mistakes; he missed only one tackle, per PFF. With his ample bulk, he looks the part of a dominant 3-4 defensive lineman. Now it’s just a question of getting on the field and putting it all together.