Cornerback Mike Hughes
Weight: 189 pounds
Hometown: New Bern, N.C.
College: Central Florida
Drafted: 30th overall, as the fourth Vikings cornerback drafted inside the top 60 under head coach Mike Zimmer.
Current jersey: No. 21
What we’ve learned
Hughes comes to Minnesota as a 21-year-old cornerback with just two years of major college football experience. He left Central Florida after one year, an undefeated season marking the exit of his head coach Scott Frost. Frost was the man who lured the JUCO All-American to attend UCF after Hughes starred at Garden City Community College in 2016. Hughes originally played at North Carolina until a suspension led to his exit. At UNC, a freshman Hughes was reportedly charged with misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury during an incident at a frat house. Chargers were dropped following community service. Hughes said he told NFL teams about “what I’ve learned from it. How I’ve overcome all the things that happened” at North Carolina. The N.C. native did “all the right things” at Central Florida, according to Frost. “Doesn’t say a lot like some corners,” Frost said. “Just comes to work, goes about his business and does a great job of it.” Hughes reportedly could’ve attended South Carolina, but the timing of his Garden City graduation didn’t align with the university’s enrollment.
Hughes led New Bern High School to two North Carolina state titles — at quarterback. He threw for nearly 3,300 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a junior and senior, doing even more damage on the ground with 49 rushing touchdowns. Hughes’ footwork attracted the Vikings, according to director of college scouting Jamaal Stephenson. “He’s got the kind of feet that we look for at the corner position,” Stephenson said. “He’s really quick out of the break. He’s a cover corner. He has some return potential as well.” Hughes scored three returned touchdowns (two kickoff, one punt) last fall as one of college football’s most effective return men.
The Vikings could get all their top picks on the field at once, according to head coach Mike Zimmer. Hughes worked in the slot during his first days at rookie minicamp earlier this month. Could he earn playing time there? “I’ve always kind of tinkered around with having one safety and four corners,” Zimmer said. “It’ll give us some flexibility in what we do in some of the nickel packages.”
What we’re watching for
Mackensie Alexander and Terence Newman split time in the slot last season. Both are back in 2018. How Hughes factors on defense could depend on his development as a slot defender with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes established outside. And Hughes’ experience is even more limited as a slot corner, per Frost. “We didn’t play him in the slot much,” Frost said. “We tried to match him up on the best receivers we were playing, played them into the boundary, the quarterback’s right — wherever we thought we needed to take someone away.”
Hughes could burst out of the gate as a special teams ace. The Vikings have an opening at kick returner, where Hughes is expected to take the lead after Jerick McKinnon left in free agency. His 31.8 yards per kickoff return ranked fourth among all FBS returners last fall. Could he also push Marcus Sherels at punt returner? Hughes’ 16.6-yard average on 14 punt returns would’ve ranked second in the FBS had he fielded two more punts to qualify in the NCAA’s records.