Earlier in the 2010, we posed a question in an article to you readers: Is 2010 first round pick Jerry Hughes a 'bust' for the Indianapolis Colts? The article intent was to do what we always want to do here: Provide discussion. And in the case of Jerry Hughes, more than a few questions were lingering concerning his overall worth to the team. Of course, as was typical all season long, people freaked out and screamed 'HOW CAN YOU CALL HIM A BUST!' even though I didn't call him such. Now that the season is over, and cooler heads seem to be commenting here now, I re-pose the question:
Is Jerry Hughes a 'bust?'
Now, to provide additional context to this question, I offer up this little bit of knowledge from ESPN's Paul Kuharsky:
On Antonio Cromartie's 47-yard kickoff return Saturday night that helped set up the Jets’ winning drive, Jerry Hughes of the Colts had the first and best opportunity to get the defensive back down.
Hughes could have had Cromartie at the 15-yard line or so, but his effort seemed halfhearted and it didn’t take much for Cromartie to angle a bit more to his right and run right past the first man on kickoff coverage.
For Hughes, who showed very little as a rookie first-round defensive end, it’s the most memorable (non-)play of the season and the second most memorable thing about him as a Colt.
If you listened to The Bill Polian Show last night, you heard the Colts president talk about how the game was lost on that kick return, and the reason Cromartie was able to make the return was a certain unnamed Colts player did not stay in his kickoff lane.
In a season where Hughes signed a 5 year, $12 million dollar deal, he 'earned' that money by recording six total tackles, no sacks, and ending the season on a half-hearted effort on special teams.
Knowing this, we re-visit the question, is Jerry Hughes a 'bust'? Right now, for me personally, the answer is yes.
One thing I want to dismiss right off the bat is this notion that first round picks can be 'project players.'
You don't pay a guy $12 million so he can suck now but maybe be good a year or two from now. You draft a guy in the first round and pay him $12 million so that he can contribute now and become really good (or perhaps great) going forward. Anyone suggestion otherwise is making excuses or carrying water for the Colts. And for a team like the Colts, who routinely use rookies as starters all the time and only use the draft to replenish yearly talent loses, first rounders needing 'time to develop' is even more ridiculous. As Peyton Manning said last year:
That’s why we treat [rookies] all like veterans.
For Hughes, the excuses made for him are that 'pass rushers have steep learning curves.' This too is bunk considering that, as a rookie, Robert Mathis (5th Round, 2005) was a special teams demon in addition to recording 3.5 sacks. Raheem Brock (7th Round, 2002), started 6 games as a rookie and recorded a sack and 17 tackles. Hell, even Marcus Howard (5th Round, 2008) had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a rookie. Howard was cut following his rookie season.
Hughes (1st Round, 2010): 6 tackles. No sacks. No forced fumbles. Bad special teams play.
Now, I'm all for players developing over time. But, a first round pick should not develop from 'he sucks' to 'he's kinda good.' He should already be good to begin with, and as he develops he becomes better. Right now, Jerry Hughes just plain sucks. I mean, we're not talking 'he's shows potential' bad. We're talking 'this guy really, REALLY sucks' kind of bad.
Consider further the two defensive ends drafted immediately after Hughes:
Jermaine Cunningham (2nd Round, 2010): 27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FFs
Carlos Dunlap (2nd Round, 2010): 24 tackles, 9.5 sacks
This guys aren't even first rounders, and like all rookies they are still developing. However, unlike Hughes, not only do they cost less money as they develop, they are contributing right now.
Now, is it possible that Jerry Hughes could from year one to year two go from a 6 tackle 'bust' to a 24 tackle, 9.5 sack beast? Sure. But ask yourself, based on what you saw, especially in crunch time when it counted (...'his effort seemed halfhearted'...) do you see him doing that? Do you think the Colts see him doing that? If so, why didn't they play him more? It's not like the pass rush was anything spectacular the last month or so.
Let's say Hughes goes halfway, earning 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2011. Is that still worth taking him in the first round in 2011? As Bill Polian told us, Hughes was not taken to replace Robert Mathis or Dwight Freeney. He was drafted to work with them. Here's Polian in April 2010:
Polian: We've been searching for the elusive 'third rusher' for a long time. And now we feel that [Hughes] can fill that bill.
Clearly, as the 2010 season showed us, Bill and co. were wrong. I mean, he even admitted so on the radio a few weeks ago.
For a 1.5 sack, 1 FF season in 2008, Marcus Howard was rewarded with a pink slip. What will Jerry Hughes be rewarded with after a 6 tackle season? Probably somewhere around $2.4 million dollars.
I sincerely hope Jerry Hughes improves as a player, but right now this was yet another awful first round draft selection by Bill Polian and the Colts personnel department. As the cries for change echo ever louder, history tells us that stubborn Bill will simply ignore all the obvious problems and do things 'his way' just to stick it to his critics. But, when you consider his last four first round picks, Bill needs to take a long, hard look at his draft evaluation process because, quite simply, the man has lost his edge.
I'll close this by saying I was VERY happy with the Hughes selection when it happened. However, the difference between a schmuck like me and a team president like Bill Polian is I'm not the one being paid millions of dollars to get these decisions right. And while hindsight is always 20/20, the reason ole Bill is paid all that money is because he has to demonstrate consistent foresight into how a player will develop. As we all know, people like Bill are more than happy to take credit for a player when the play of that player justifies his draft stock. In Bill's case, he practically flaunts it in the face of his critics.
But, when a guy doesn't pan out, somehow the excuse is 'hindsight is 20/20?' Sorry, but no.
The 2011 NFL Draft will be a very key event for Bill Polian. I cannot see how he retains his job if he busts yet another first rounder. I honestly can't.