Each week leading up to April’s NFL Draft, New England native Steve Muench of ESPN’s Scouts Inc., will identify a player he thinks could be a good fit for the Patriots. Today, it’s Texas Christian outside linebacker Jerry Hughes:
“This is an outside linebacker who is a little smaller than what the Patriots usually take, but it ties into the idea that maybe the team has to adjust its prototype at that position, which is a topic that has been dissected on ESPNBoston.com over the last week.
“Jerry Hughes is as big as Tully Banta-Cain but even then, I don’t think Banta-Cain is the prototype. Hughes is a shade under 6-foot-2 and is 255 pounds. He is also maxed out and not going to get much bigger. The Patriots generally favor players at the position like Mike Vrabel at 265 and Adalius Thomas at 270, but when you look at Hughes, and consider the possibility the Patriots might go outside their prototype, the first thing that stands out is how well he rushes the passer. This guy can get to the quarterback, with 26.5 sacks over the last two years.
“The combine is a great tool for teams when it comes to players like Hughes. You watch him on film during the year and he looks fast, he looks quick, he’s getting up the field, but it’s also against competition in the Mountain West Conference. Based on that, you’re still asking the question ‘How quick is he? And since all he really did was rush the passer, how will he drop into underneath coverage?’
“He answered both questions at the combine. He was real fluid, low in his backpedal and did a good job flipping his hips when forced to change direction. He also ran a 4.69 in the 40, which is very good. In addition to Hughes, another player at the position to keep on the radar, who also did well on the combine, is Virginia Tech’s Jason Worilds. We had covered him a while back.
“As for Hughes, when you watch him on film, he’s explosive and shows the ability to bend back inside. That’s when you see him attack the outside shoulder of the tackle and once under the shoulder make his move back inside, which effectively cuts down the angle to the quarterback. In order to do that, you have to have balance, ankle flexibility and upper-body strength. He has all three. On the flip side, the concern would be if he gets engulfed against the run against NFL offensive tackles.
“In the end, this will come down to if the Patriots go outside the prototype. Hughes is the type of guy who could be there in the early to mid second round. As we’ve seen from James Harrison and Dwight Freeney, being a smaller guy can be advantageous in the pass rush."