Knows what to do with the ball after making an interception
Excellent returner on special teams
Loose hips to turn and run with speed receivers
Can play off-man coverage
Can play zone coverage
A little short
Could use more weight
Gives up a few passes from not finishing plays
Could have issues with big receivers
Could be picked on in the red zone
Summary: Hughes started out his collegiate career at North Carolina before transferring to Central Florida. In 2017, Hughes has been excellent for the Knights as their No. 1 cornerback while also providing a lot of big plays on special teams. Entering his bowl game, Hughes has five interceptions, 11 passes broken up, a forced fumble and 44 tackles. He is averaging 34 yards per kick return with two touchdowns and 17.8 yards per punt return and a touchdown.
Hughes is a natural cover corner with speed, quick feet, and agility. He is very fluid and does a good job of running the route with receivers to prevent them from gaining separation. Hughes keeps wideouts from coming open and is quick to recover if they get a step. Hughes has nice hips to turn to run downfield with speed receivers. He also is a willing tackler.
Hughes has dangerous ball skills. He is very talented in slapping passes away and timing his contact well while being a threat to pick off the pass. Hughes has good hands and is a dangerous threat to pick passes off. When he gets the ball in his hands, Hughes knows what to do with it as he is dangerous to rip off big returns. His speed and elusiveness in the open field is very impressive. That is also what makes him a dynamic special teams returner. Hughes is very fast, has good vision, and follows his blocks well. Once in the open field, he hits the afterburners, and defenders can't catch him from behind.
There are some areas that Hughes can improve upon for the pros. Sources say that Hughes can give up some completions from not finishing, but that is something that he could improve on in the pros with more coaching and experience.
For the NFL, Hughes has the ability to be an outside corner as well as a nickelback. He could provide a serious impact on special teams as a returner, but his NFL team could pick certain spots and limit how many times they use him on returns to protect him from injury. As a top-three corner, his team might be afraid of using him very much on special teams.
Some teams have given Hughes a second-round grade for the 2018 NFL Draft. Others that aren't as high on him felt he should go back to Central Florida for 2018 to improve before going pro, but they also acknowledged that corners are in demand and go quickly in the draft, so they see the second round as likely for him if he enters the 2018 NFL Draft. One director of college scouting told me that he thinks Hughes could be a workout star with fast 40 times that end up giving him late first-round consideration. Cover cornerbacks are always in demand, so Hughes has a shot at being a Thursday night selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Leodis McKelvin. Team sources have compared Hughes to McKelvin. It makes a lot of sense as McKelvin (5-10, 188) and Hughes are almost identical in size. Both of their skill sets involve being fast cover corners who could run the route to prevent separation. They also share return skills. McKelvin was a high first-round pick and probably should have gone lower. Hughes could be a late first-rounder and is likely to be a second-round pick if he gets out of the opening night of the 2018 NFL Draft.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Buffalo, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas, Minnesota, Cincinnati and New England
There are a lot of teams that could be a fit for Hughes in the 2018 NFL Draft. At the top of the second round, there are a lot of potential fits for him. The Browns have to upgrade their cornerback talent, and Hughes would make a lot of sense for one of their second-round picks. Tampa Bay could use more young cornerback talent to go with Vernon Hargreaves, and Hughes would make sense for the Bucs in the second round. The Colts need a young corner to go with Quincy Wilson and replace Vontae Davis. San Francisco needs cornerback upgrades, and Hughes would be a nice fit as a tandem with Akhello Witherspoon.
Buffalo could consider Hughes with its second first-round pick or its second-rounder. The Bills have to find a replacement for Ronald Darby.
The Rams could consider Hughes in the first round if Trumaine Johnson is let go. Staying in Los Angeles, the Chargers could use a cornerback to go with Casey Hayward. Jason Verrett is nearing the end of his contract and has had durability issues.
Dallas could use more cornerback talent, and Hughes could make sense for the organization in the second round. The Vikings have to consider a replacement for Terrance Newman, while the Bengals could use a replacement for Adam Jones. Hughes could interest both Minnesota and Cincinnati.
The Patriots could consider taking Hughes with their first-round pick or their high second-round pick. Malcolm Butler is entering free agency, while Stephon Gilmore has been disappointing in his first year in Foxborough. Hughes' cover skills could make him a fit for New England.