In his high school days, University of California cornerback Daymeion Hughes was more of a regionally recognized player in California being named to the SuperPrep All-Far West team and the PrepStar's All-West squad after his senior season. He also finished as the runner-up in the Southern California Prep Player of the Year race that season.
In his freshman season at Cal, Hughes started five games at cornerback, registering 30 tackles, a fumble recovery and two interceptions, tying him for the team lead in picks.
Despite starting 11 of the Golden Bears' 12 games in 2004, Hughes had a less-productive season. His sophomore season saw him register 26 tackles and no interceptions.
Things turned around for Hughes in his junior season, however. In 2005, he managed 62 tackles and five interceptions, good for second in the Pac-10 in that category. He returned those picks for 159 yards and one touchdown. He also broke up 12 passes, giving him the conference lead in passes defended with 17.
Hughes saved his best for his senior season. In 2006, he registered 72 total tackles. He also picked off eight passes, returning them for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He also broke up 11 passes, giving him two more passes defended than his league leading total from the previous year.
For his efforts, Hughes was named First Team All-America, PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Pac-10. He also won the Lott Award, given for the nation's best defensive player who also demonstrates good character, leadership and community involvement.
Hughes measured at the NFL Scouting Combine at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. His size is adequate for an NFL cornerback. While he isn't as fast as scouts would like after posting a 4.65 40 time, he is very quick breaking on the ball and changing directions, helping enhance his knack for making big plays. Regardless of quickness, his 40 time will come back to haunt him.
Hughes has also, in the college ranks, proven to be a good tackler when he is needed to help stop the run or after short passing plays because of his ability to wrap up.
Hughes is a great fit for a Cover 2 zone defense, largely due to his lack of top-end speed.
There are a couple of knocks on Hughes, however. First, as mentioned, he isn't quite as fast as other cornerbacks coming into the draft (4.65 40 time). Frankly, such a time is embarrassing for a cornerback. Although he can make up for that in the short to intermediate passing game, the lack of speed will hinder him in deep coverage. He's going to have to rely a lot on safety help in those situations.
Also, as big a playmaker as Hughes can be, gambling on those big plays can hurt him at the NFL level. Taking risks as a cornerback at any level, while sometimes necessary, could turn out badly for a player and ultimately the team. In the NFL, losing those gambles can be disastrous. He will have to learn to better pick his spots if he is going to prevent long plays for NFL offenses.
Despite all his collegiate accolades, obvious skills and instincts, there are enough knocks on Hughes to keep NFL teams a little wary.
Look for him to be one of the biggest question marks as far as draft position on the first day. Recent rumors have him going as high as No. 18 to a Cincinnati Bengals team that ranked last in pass defense last season or as low as the mid-second round because of his lack of speed.
Other first round possibilities could be Dallas (22nd) or New Orleans (27th). Both teams could use a good, young defensive back, and Hughes would be a decent gamble that late in the round. With his lack of speed, look for him to fall out of the first round. If he does, don't expect him to last too long in the second round, though.
Hughes should be a solid contributor to some team in his career, but in what
capacity is the question. If he can prove his doubters wrong he would be an
excellent cornerback for years, especially in the shorter passing game. If he
doesn't overcome his weaknesses, he could end up as a better help on special
teams while being just a serviceable NFL cornerback.