The Jerry Hughes Project

By this point, it’s apparent to nearly everybody that Jerry Hughes was not the right pick during the 2009 draft, at least not so far. He simply  hasn’t lived up to his draft status, and may never will.

That’s right. He has disappointed and may never be worth a first round pick.

It’s certainly looking that way right now. However, I’ve seen claims by many Colts’ fans, even ones whose opinion I respect, saying that Jerry Hughes should be cut. That is ridiculous. To say that Hughes should be cut from the team at this point in time simply defies logic, and I would be beyond belief if the team announced his departure on Friday.

Hughes has the ability to be a speed rusher on the outside. No other player on the roster can claim that. John Chick can rush the passer, but does so with a never ending motor more than with physical skills. Hughes, on the other hand, has all the physical tools. He has an effective speed, outside rush, and has the advantage of playing well throughout training camp. He’s gotten close to the quarterback several times this preseason, once resulting in a half-sack. The problem with defensive ends, is that most people won’t notice them unless they get the sacks. Sacks only come so often for pass rushers however, and entire games can be had where a player doesn’t make it to the quarterback.

Dwight Freeney is an amazing player, a dominant force that is rarely found at the position. He has a variety of moves, from the speed rush, to the patented spin move, to a bull rush that is often overlooked by mainstream pundits. Jerry Hughes is not Dwight Freeney. While he may have the potential to, he likely never will be anywhere near Freeney’s ability. But that doesn’t mean he should be cut.

First, Hughes’ career has been woefully short. He has one season under his belt, a season in which he played mostly on special teams.  This preseason he’s gotten extensive snaps on the ends, but has failed to get sacks. He’s played in three games, and has gotten half of a sack. Yes, it’s been disappointing. But bad enough to give up on a player who has the tools to be a very good defensive end after only one year? Hardly. I would be lying if I said that I was happy with Hughes, of if I said I wasn’t disappointed. He needs to show sharp improvement this year. If he doesn’t, then next year I’ll be calling for his head. But in my opinion, it’s simply bad management to give up on a player with his potential after only one season. Especially when he is a pass rushing specialist who is playing behind two of the best pass rushing specialists on the planet. Freeney and Mathis rotate out of the game a lot, but are generally in on passing downs, which is exactly when Hughes would be in.

Second, Hughes has been disappointing, but saying that he’s bad enough to be cut, that he’s terrible, is just exaggerating. Hughes has shown the ability to get to the quarterback in flashes, getting good pressure or getting there a half second late. He’s also shown an ability to get there from a standing up position, something that the Colts’ coaches need to experiment more with, IMO. Hughes best worth to the team can be shown in his edge rush. So far, Hughes only has one effective move, his speed on the outside. Unfortunately for him, the offensive tackles he’s faced so far have seen this, and have resorted to pushing him wide on every snap. Thus, the quarterback can step up into the pocket, and have a clean throw. However, when the defensive tackles get a push up the middle, the edge rush is extremely effective. That’s precisely what happened on Hughes’ half sack. Hughes came around the outside, and the quarterback (I think it was Rex Grossman) tried to step up. Unfortunately for him, Drake Nevis had pushed the OL back, causing the quarterback to be trapped, ending in Hughes and Nevis both combining for the sack. With the pass rushing defensive tackles that the Colts have employed for 2011 (Tommie Harris and Drake Nevis), this could be a very effective combination.

Now, this doesn’t go to say that I think Hughes is just fine. The fact that he only has one semi-effective move concerns me, and he definitely needs to improve this year. But to give up on him now would be a grave mistake, in my opinion. What do you think?

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.