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Jerry Hughes Peed On The Rug

Poor Jerry Hughes.

No, I mean it. Poor Jerry.

We've been beating up on him pretty much since last year this time, when he emerged from the 2010 training camp as anything but a player worthy of a first round pick. In October 2010, after Hughes had spent the first month of the 2010 season de-activated for reasons that had nothing to do with injury, we asked the question, 'Is Colts 2010 first round pick Jerry Hughes a bust?'

One year later, the answer is most certainly a Yes.

Of course, there are still a few silly people out there who think the TCU product just hasn't been given his fair chance. I imagine some of these same people would be posting billboards in Denver calling for Tim Tebow to start at quarterback if they were Broncos fans.

Much like Tebow, Jerry Hughes should never have been taken in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Unlike Tebow, Hughes knows this. He knows he hasn't lived up to his billing and that he is, essentially, stealing money from the Colts right now. One year after spending all of September 2010 deactivated, Jerry started the 2011 season deactivated again. He did not dress for last week's game against the Texans, and Colts vice chairman Bill Polian's excuse for the deactivation was as lame as his efforts to shore up the back-up quarterback position this year.

Hughes is a bust, and he knows it. From Phil Wilson, speaking on Dan Dakich's radio show on WFNI in Indianapolis [emphasis mine]:

Wilson: It's like every time I see [Hughes], the head lowers and... he just looks like the puppy that peed on the rug in the corner, and you just, you don't even have to beat the snot out of him anymore because he knows he's been bad. I mean, I hate to describe it that way. It just doesn't look like he has any confidence at all. We were talking, the colleagues and I, about how one of us wants to go over there and throw him a token interview tomorrow, maybe, and just to see if it can get some life in him because... he knows. He does. He knows.

Dakich: What do you think he knows?

Wilson: He knows he does not have the confidence right now or faith in himself that he can be the player that's expected as a first round pick.

Aka, Jerry Hughes knows he's a bust.

But, unlike previous articles where I have laid all the blame at Jerry's feet, today I'm going to post that not all of this is Jerry's fault. In fact, much of it is not his fault. He may know he's a bust, but part of what has made this situation the disaster it is stems from the football operations folks (aka, Bill Polian and his kids) royally whiffing on their evaluation of Hughes' skills when they drafted him.

Much like I did in October of last year, I'm going to take you back to April 2010, when Bill Polian stood before the press after the Colts selected Jerry Hughes with the 31st pick in the 2010 draft.

Polian: We've been searching for the elusive 'third rusher' for a long time. And now we feel that [Hughes] can fill that bill.

Polian: We've said, seemingly forever, that the third rusher who can substitute for Dwight and Robert is something we have not had. And when Dwight and Robert were 100% healthy, the results spoke for themselves. When they've not been 100% healthy, the results have not been what we've wanted. So, that's the first priority. The third rusher has been a priority of ours, as I said, seemingly forever.

Polian: He gives us a lot of flexibility to create third down packages

Polian: He can put his hand down. He can stand up in the 'Joker' role. That's what he does. He's a pure pass rusher.

When asked a direct question about whether the Colts expected Hughes to contribute right away during his rookie year, Polian answered without hesitation:

Polian: Oh yeah. And he runs well enough that he'll be a force on special teams too, I would imagine.

One year later, Hughes can't even get on the field as a special teams contributor. He is, essentially, a wasted roster spot.

How is this possible? How can a guy with 4.56 40 speed not even be good enough to play special teams? How can a kid who had 11.5 sacks in 2009 at TCU not even sniff the quarterback in preseason games when he has third string tackles single-blocking him?

The answer might be that Hughes simply isn't a good fit for the Colts defense. And if that's the case, the fault isn't necessarily with Hughes. It's with the idiots who drafted him.

I've been seeing more of you readers writing about the possibility of the Colts switching to a base 3-4 defense. While the idea is intriguing, it simply is not practical. One, the Colts don't have a nose tackle, and without one a 3-4 defense is utterly useless. You might as well forfeit the downs on defense. A 3-4 D without a NT is a ship trying to dock without an anchor, or a car trying to stop sans breaks. Two, the Colts corners aren't good enough to consistently play man-to-man coverage, which is another requirement of most 3-4 bases. If one is blitzing linebackers, which is the only reason to run a 3-4, then that means fewer players are in coverage.

Thus, your corners better man-up, because zones don't work when one is blitzing, especially in today's pass happy NFL.

However, two people who would probably benefit most from a switch to a 3-4 are Jerry Hughes and 2008 draft bust Philip Wheeler. Wheeler, like Hughes, was a pass-rushing specialist in college at Georgia Tech. He was drafted in the third round in 2008 but, unlike Hughes, Wheeler was shifted to play SAM linebacker in a Tampa-2 defense. Rarely, if ever, do linebackers blitz in Tampa-2. Thus, the one skill Wheeler made a name for himself for at GT, pass rushing, has never been maximized. Instead, Wheeler has struggled to play coverage as a SAM. He's been benched twice in two years, and had it not been for a very strong preseason this year, he might have been cut from the team.

It was during preseason this year that we finally saw the Colts experiment with Wheeler as a stand-up rusher from the outside, and the results were very promising. Wheeler had two sacks in preseason, and when he rushed from the outside in a stand-up position, he always got near the quarterback.

During training camp this year, Stampede Blue's Matt Grecco noticed the Colts utilizing Hughes as a stand-up rusher in several scrimmages. like with Wheeler in preseason, the results were promising. Unlike Wheeler though, the Colts never experimented with Hughes as an outside rusher standing-up. In all four games, Hughes had his hand on the ground, and he looked slow and plodding when he rushed from that stance.

These observations from Matt, coupled with hughes looking awful in a two-point stance, got me wondering whether or not such limitations in his game were ever noted in pre-draft scouting reports back in 2010. So, I did some searching. Here's what I found.

Walter Football (who listed Hughes as an outside linebacker, not a defensive end)

Hughes earns my first-round, 4-star grade as a 3-4 rush linebacker. His athleticism and motor is simply too much for me to not grade him out higher than everyone else. He is my No. 1 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft and I expect his stock to soar among the 3-4 teams in the league. He was simply too productive at TCU, and despite his lack of height we can see what Elvis Dumervil did last season with his exceptional first step and speed off the edge. Hughes is a projected late-first to second-round pick, but could end up going in the top 25 picks when it's all said and done, much like Larry English.

Mocking The Draft

A good 3-4 outside linebacker option who may not be able to play anything else.

Hughes will not fit into every NFL system. It has become quite clear that he is a linebacker who was an end in college. He simply lacks the size and strength to play at the end spot at the next level. That could slip him down into the early portion of the second round, but after a solid combine, Hughes is holding onto hopes of hearing his name called on the first day of the draft.

The Football Expert

He will most likely be a 3-4 rush OLB in the NFL. One of my main concerns with Hughes is that he relies mainly on beating offensive lineman with his speed. In the NFL he will be facing lineman that are a lot quicker than the competition he faced in college; his speed will not be as effective.

Draft Board Insider

Reminds me of: LaMarr Woodley, OLB Pittsburgh Steelers-Same body type, same college experience, and same explosive nature that so Woodley has translated very well to his new position.  Honestly, I think Hughes has a chance to be much better.

As you can see, when you go back and read almost every scouting report on Hughes prior to the 2010 Draft, everyone was saying Hughes was a better fit as a 3-4 outside backer, not as a starting defensive end.

Now, if 'amateur' scouts like my buddy Dan Kadar at MtD are noticing Hughes' limitations as a DE, and his enormous potential as a 3-4 backer, the Colts front office had to see it as well. And if they did, why did they waste a first round pick on him?

Did they think they could 'teach' him how to rush from the two-point stance?

Did they think his speed would just naturally translate to playing DE in a Tampa-2?

If so, that suggests that the Colts might have seen Hughes as a 'project player.' In fact, Phil Wilson of the Star called him one yesterday:

We can agree he's a project, or some people think he's a project...

Here's my thought on this, and I'll try and keep this subtle:


OK, not so subtle, I admit. But, the question is still very valid.

For an organization that avoids free agency as if it were leprosy, why invest a precious, late-first round pick on a project player that may or may not develop. With first rounders, a team like the Colts should not be looking for 'projects.' They should be looking for future starters.

Project players, like Pierre Garcon, can be found in later rounds. Heck, I'll even let Wheeler go as a 'project' third rounder. But a first rounder? A 'project' first rounder? On a team that, just two months prior to the NFL Draft, was called out by Bill Polian himself for being poor along the offensive line?

I mean, to some extent, I'm willing to yield the often lazy 'hindsight is 20-20' excuse for draft incompetence, but in this case it's pretty unacceptable. The Colts came off a Super Bowl where their o-line was criticized by Polian himself. It's clear they'd given up on Tony Ugoh by that point, and Mike Pollak had lost his job to an undrafted rookie, Kyle DeVan. When the 31nd pick came up for the Colts, sitting there were  solid prospects like Rodger Saffold from Indiana and Vladamir Ducasse from UMass. Also sitting there was Brian Price, a 6'1, 303 pound DT from UCLA.

All four of those guys were solid prospects, not 'project' players. If you don't believe me, look at the scouting reports pre-draft (Saffold, Ducasse, and Price). Like with all prospects, there are certainly questions and issues with each player, but none were viewed as needing a position change in the pros (unlike Jerry Hughes). Maybe you could argue Ducasse (possible shift from tackle to guard), but he has already won the starting RT spot in New England, and we've all saw him play well when he blocked Robert Mathis in New England last year. (Editor's Note: Yeah, I got Ducasse confused with Patriots lineman Sebastian Vollmer because... I don't know, I suck, or something. But, regardless of this screw-up, Ducasse is still a better prospect than Hughes. --bbs)

Again, all these players (cited solely for comparison to the 'project' player in Hughes) were viewed as solid prospects at their respective positions, and all have turned into quality starters one year later, with Saffold being the best of the three.

For many mock drafts at the time, folks did not see Saffold getting past Indianapolis. When I spoke to NFL Network's Mike Mayock before the draft in 2010, that's exactly what he told me:

I don't think Saffold gets past Bill Polian at 31, and he might go earlier.

In those same mocks, a 3-4 teams like New England or Arizona were the one many thought Hughes would go to. Yet, despite Hughes being scouted as a college DE who fit best as a 3-4 outside rusher, the Colts (who run a base 4-3 Tampa-2 defense) drafted Hughes in the first round.

Now, the reason I've written all this background material is that, when you take a step back and look at Hughes and how he was viewed at that time, it really made absolutely ZERO sense for the Colts to take him.

Sure, on a superficial level, it was a move that was cheered. I know I was happy. But, when you looked a little deeper, the 'fit' just didn't make sense. Hughes is a square peg, and the Colts have used the last two years to fit their defense, which is littered with round holes. What is so frustrating about it is that folks like Dan Kadar saw the limitations of Hughes' game when translated to an NFL 4-3. Thus, if he saw it, the Polians had to see it as well.

And yet, they drafted him anyway... with a first round selection.

Again, this is a franchise trying to win a Super Bowl. It already has established 'stars.' Yet, despite their star power, their weaknesses were along the offensive line and the defensive tackle position. And with several solid o-line and DT prospects sitting there at pick No. 31, they opted for a 'project' player, a 3-4 linebacker that they felt could be taught to rush the passer from the two-point stance at the NFL level.

This is the kind of stupid move you'd expect from Matt Millen, not Bill Polian. It seems so amateurish now, so 'WTF were you thinking?' Yet, there it is. And it doesn't take 20-20 vision or hindsight to see it. It was a 'WTF' move then just as it is now.

Knowing this, it might be best to ease off on Jerry Hughes from now on. It's clear he doesn't fit with this team, and the Colts whiffed badly when they drafted him. It's the kind of mistake that puts a big dent in the supposed 'genius' of the Polian System of drafting players.

Maybe the positive here is Hughes might have some trade value to a 3-4 team looking for a rusher. However, who would trade for him, and, more importantly, why would they trade for him? Teams know the Colts are fed up with Hughes, and they know Hughes doesn't fit their defense. It's only a matter of time before the Colts are forced to give up on him, and at that point teams can just sign Hughes for peanuts rather than trade anything for him.

The bottom line here is the Colts front office really botched this pick big time, and the failure of Jerry Hughes (who is a good kid who works hard) to develop might not be Jerry Hughes' fault. Bill Polian always loves to dismiss critics who say he should do this or that, saying such suggestions are not good 'fits' for the Colts.

Well, Jerry Hughes was a pretty bad 'fit' from the beginning.

He's also the third first round pick in a row that Bill has busted since 2007. If Bill were anyone else in this league, he'd have been fired by now for busting that many first rounders. Hindsight may indeed be 20-20, but THE reason Bill Polian pulls in a seven figure salary is that, when applied to his decisions, hindsight is supposed to make him look brilliant, not an 'amateur.'