When Jerry Hughes was traded from the Colts to the Bills, it was a godsend. For one, many thought his career was heading into being a bust after being a first round pick, nothing was going his way in Indy, it was a nightmare and in 2013 the Bills came calling as they gave up on their linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard. If you haven’t been paying attention, you can go ask Colts fans if they’d wish Hughes was still a member of the Colts. Hughes wasn’t even on any IDP radar from 2010 to 2013, once he put on that Bills uniform his career took off and has been put on the IDP map.
With that being said, I’m here to tell you to feel confident taking Jerry Hughes in your IDP Draft, it seemed as if the IDP world collapsed the day Rex Ryan was hired and Hughes got the position change from DE to LB, which slims the DE field some but he’s still worth drafting. In 2014, Hughes definitely became a hot target in IDP leagues as he put up 54 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 10 sacks which was good as a DL11 in most leagues (depending on scoring). He played 71% of the snaps (807 total), posted a 9.7 overall rating at ProFootballFocus (PFF), a grade of 9.7 against the run and 7.6 pass rush while providing 40 QB hurries. He was able to put up these stellar numbers in Swartz defensive scheme as a 4-3 DE, albeit he’s on a line that features Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams do not knock Hughes skill-set.
Let’s flash back to 2013 when he first arrived in Buffalo with Mike Pettine calling the shots on defense, in case you didn’t know his scheme is almost as similar to Rex as both have been working together in Baltimore, and Hughes played ROLB in Pettine’s scheme and was one of the better OLB’s that year. Although he only played 52% of the snaps (621 total) with an impressive 19.9 overall rating, 21.6 pass rushing grade while putting up 39 QB Hurries and 10 sacks, totaled 46 tackles and 9 tackles for loss. So, just in case you’re wondering how Hughes will fare as an OLB, remember this year (2013).
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Now, let’s move forward to present day where Rex Ryan is in Buffalo and will be running his aggressive blitz-heavy defensive scheme, Pettine and Rex’s system are a little similar with Rex there’s a bit more disguise and versatility. After Hughes was pretty much used as a situational pass rusher, in nickel and dime packages, a bigger role is headed towards his way – especially after signing a $45 million dollar contract. He’ll be moving to OLB (Strong-Side) in Ryan’s scheme, will be asked to drop back into coverage a little more and will be one of the more important pieces in the scheme while playing standing up. Hughes is entering his prime years and it can be said that he’s the most talented edge rusher Ryan’s ever had in any defense he’s put on the field (in Baltimore he had Adalius Thomas and Jarrett Johnson and in New York he had Calvin Pace as strong side LB’s). In perspective, from 2010-2014 Calvin Pace averaged 325 pass rush snaps per season and dropped back at an average of 182 snaps per season and Hughes brings more to the table than Pace and with these opportunities awaiting for Hughes you can just imagine the staggering numbers he’s about to put up.
IDP Impact: With the LB tag, Hughes has been pretty much disrespected in drafts and to each his own but I’m not going to be that guy that lets someone else draft him. If your league starts 3 or more LB’s, Hughes should definitely be on your radar because if he’s not then Von Miller, Aldon Smith, Clay Matthews and Ryan Kerrigan are off your draft radar too; right? I’m expecting Hughes too see an increase in his snaps (807 in 2014) which should jump to 900 or more and we’ll be reminiscing back to 2013. Rex knows how to maximize his players potential, so it’s not far fetched that Hughes can put up 55-65 tackles, 12-15 sacks and a bunch of other contributions in different categories. He’s currently my LB40 but will see a bump in my update, definitely has the upside of reaching the top 25 if he reaches my forecast. Now, he’s not Justin Houston, but it’s not impossible for Hughes to achieve what Adalius Thomas did in 06′ (83 total tackles, 11 sacks) and I would definitely take Hughes after Houston/Miller are gone as “big play” LB’s. The time to buy into Hughes is now before training camp hits, during that time I bet his value will go up as the talk of him ruining Rex’s practices will rise again, dude’s a beast and will be one of the key factors the Bills defense will be top 5 in the NFL this season and win you a few weeks in 2015 and beyond.