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Mike Hughes’ physicality fits what the Chiefs want at cornerback

The former first-round pick fits the bill for what the Chiefs have historically asked of their cornerbacks.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has made his latest trade for a former first-round pick. Former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes will become the newest member of the Chiefs’ secondary after it was reported Thursday evening that he would be heading to Kansas City.

At 5’10 and 189 pounds, Hughes doesn’t fit the physique that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo usually looks for in his outside cornerbacks. He played plenty on the boundary with the Vikings, but he has also been aligned in the slot for 29% of his career defensive snaps.

That said, his physicality and strength were big reasons why he was selected so high in the 2018 Draft. At the scouting combine, he put up 20 repetitions on bench press — as much as some lineman prospects. He was also touted for his toughness on the field. Those traits align with the style of play that the Chiefs ask of their outside cornerbacks, so his size may be misleading.

When a tackling opportunity is presented in front of him, he explodes toward the ballcarrier and uses every pound of his frame to deliver a jarring hit. He’s not afraid to throw his body around when tackling. If the play looks familiar, it’s because we’ve seen Chiefs cornerbacks make similar plays over the last two seasons under Spagnuolo.

Whether it’s a screen pass or a quick toss to the outside, Hughes has shown the willingness to attack ballcarriers and square up for a solid tackle — rather than diving at ankles and tripping them up.

That physicality extends to his coverage ability. He won’t be the stickiest defender in man coverage, but he’ll attack the catch point and make a play to jar the ball loose. His shorter stature doesn’t match how strong he is when bodying up with receivers and looking to separate the ball from the pass-catcher’s hands.

We know how strong wide receiver D.K. Metcalf is; Hughes’ momentum and strong hands cause what appears to be a completed touchdown pass to fall to the turf.

Hughes didn’t run the fastest 40-yard dash — it was recorded at 4.53 seconds at the 2018 scouting combine — but once he gets downhill, he gets to where he needs to go in a hurry and with aggression.

The areas where Hughes has struggled in his NFL career seem to be in zone coverage — and specifically, when the play forces him to move quickly from one zone to the other.

You’d like to see a cleaner transition from his initial responsibility to where the ball goes. His reaction time seems to be fine, but cornerbacks shouldn’t be completely spinning to change their direction from one way to the other.

In general, his movement skills could be better; he won’t be the cornerback that’s glued to a receiver step for step throughout the entire route. He’s not as comfortable in off-ball coverage; he would much rather line up in press and use his physicality to initially re-direct the receiver.

Fortunately, the Chiefs like to put their cornerbacks in press techniques for that exact reason.

The bottom line

Hughes absolutely fits what the Chiefs have typically wanted in their cornerbacks, and he should immediately be competing for one of the three starting positions in nickel formations. He’s played most of his career on the boundary, but he also has plenty of slot experience.

As long as he is healthy — which has not been the case for most of his three-year NFL career — Hughes should raise the overall performance of the Chiefs’ secondary. He enters the final year of his rookie contract, meaning he’ll have every reason to be motivated to play the best football of his life.