Draft Profile: LB Hughes changed for the better

Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to the NFL Draft April 22nd, Buffalobills.com will profile one of the more highly touted prospects at each position in the 2010 draft class. A position group video preview will accompany each of these feature stories in the media lounge featuring the top five prospects at each position. We continue our pre-draft feature series with Texas Christian University running back turned defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes.
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In this year's NFL draft, a Texas Christian University product, defensive end Jerry Hughes, might just bring back memories of a fairly influential Buffalo Bills draft pick from the same position of a few years ago: Aaron Schobel.

Hughes is drawing comparisons to Schobel, a second-round pick (46th overall) from the 2001 draft. A huge difference, though, is the fact that Hughes is fairly new to the defensive side of the ball.

Originally recruited as a Texas Class 5A honorable mention running back out of Austin, where he rushed for 1,412 yards and 19 touchdowns his senior year, the 6-2, 255-pounder never saw action at his primary position. Instead his college career at TCU began at defensive end, and he did not disappoint.

Starting in 27 of his 49 career games for the Horned Frogs, Hughes racked up 28.5 sacks. In a highlight-reel senior campaign, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. His junior season was even more impressive. Hughes led the nation with 15 sacks to go along with 18.5 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and two interceptions – one returned for a touchdown.

Most notably, Hughes helped to carry TCU to a perfect 8-0 record in the Mountain West Conference en route to an unfortunate, 17-10, loss to an undefeated Boise State team in the Fiesta Bowl.

Hughes' draft stock is quite high considering his impressive numbers from the NFL Combine. As such, he projects to be a late-first to early-second round pick. The pass rusher is labeled as a "tweener" by pro scouts. Some believe he's an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, while others maintain he could serve as a 4-3 defensive end. Either way his accomplishments as the Horned Frogs' most prolific pass disrupter are hard to ignore.

What could prove to be a problem, though, is his relative lack of experience on defense. That might be the case, but Hughes believes his experience on offense ultimately helped his development as a defensive end.

"Being a running back you always focus on your speed so I felt like bringing that to the defensive side of the ball really helped me," Hughes said. "Just being more explosive than other people, being faster and things like that."

Hughes' smooth transition to defensive end was due to his work with TCU defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach, Dick Bumpas.

"(Bumpas) did a great job of teaching me the fundamentals," Hughes said. "When you have someone who is able to walk to you through it and make that transition, it makes things a lot better."

With a lot of concern over what many believe to be a "rawness" at his new position, Hughes did impress with the improvements he made over a relatively short period of time. Originally coming into college weighing 200 pounds, putting on 55 pounds of bulk in the weight room speaks to his willingness to adapt to a new position.

And a new position is very well what Hughes could encounter in the professional ranks should he got to a team employing a 3-4 defensive system. Sliding back to outside linebacker from defensive end however, pales in comparison to the change he made when he stepped on the TCU campus four years ago.

"I'm hearing different things (about the change) from defensive end to outside linebacker," Hughes said. "Wherever they ask me to play, I'll be more than happy to play and give it 110 percent.

"I've only been on the defensive side of the ball for four years so my knowledge of that side of the ball is still very minimal. So I have to open up and extend myself so I can learn more. I still have to learn things as far as defensive end, certain techniques, certain ways to do things. And now I also have to adapt and learn the outside linebacker position, which is what I think I'm capable of doing."

In the NFL Combine, Hughes was a top performer in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle run. His numbers reinforced an agility most scouts feel would cater to the outside linebacker position.

Hughes ran a 4.15 in the 20-yard shuttle, best when compared to all defensive linemen at the Combine. His 4.69 in the 40-yard dash and a 6.99 mark in the 3-cone drill were both good for fourth-best among players at his position. The kicker, however, is the fact that, while Hughes' numbers were stellar among defensive linemen, when compared to other linebackers, many times his showings would be considered average, at best.

But when asked to describe the type of player he is, Hughes said: "I'm a fast player, somebody who has speed. I'm going to use that to my advantage, to get to the ball a lot of times."

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