Path To the Draft 2015: “Where Would Colts Be Now If Team Kept Hughes?”
Prior to 2012 and the beginning of the Andre Luck era, the Indianapolis Colts had one of the league’s more potent pass rushing defenses in the league. That defense was led by cornerstones Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as that tandem routinely caused havoc on opposing offenses with regularity on Sundays. As both players reached towards the end of their careers, the Polian regime started addressing the future of the position, particularly in drafting Jerry Hughes towards the end of the 2010 draft. Hughes’ short career started off slow as he barely saw the field playing behind stalwarts Mathis and Freeney. When Grigson and Pagano were brought on board to replace Polian and company, the question marks on Hughes and his future with the Colts were at the forefront of discussion as the front office looked to shed teams’ staple 4-3 defense in order to become the smash-mouthed replica of the “bully” new coach Chuck Pagano helped build in Baltimore. In spite of Hughes’ limited playing time, he was already deemed a bust by both fans and the new front office. This led to his eventual trade to Buffalo for LB Kelvin Sheppard (Remember him?), a rare player for player swap.
A quick examination of the careers of both players will tell you who got the better end of the deal in this transaction. While Kelvin Sheppard has yet to register as a blip on the radar screen, Hughes has gone on to blossom into one the league’s better young talents at his position. Now under the guidance of new HC and Defensive guru Rex Ryan, Hughes very well may become one the leagues more feared DEs in the league. "This just in: I am really happy we signed Jerry Hughes back," Ryan said Wednesday, via Syracuse.com's Matthew Fairburn. "It's rare that you have to pull a guy from practice because he's ruining your practice. I had to pull him today."
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a big fan of Grigson and the front office currently in place. But I’ll be honest and blunt here, I think Grigson blew on this one. The one thing that held Hughes back on the Colts is the one thing that happens to be the biggest reason why his career has taken off with the Bills: “Opportunity to play consistently.” No matter what position you play in the NFL, your biggest teacher and best experience is always going to come from being on the field and in the trenches at your position. Hughes was not allotted the necessary time to develop with the Colts into the player he is now with the Bills. Giving him “spot” or “situational duty” is not the way you develop him, nor is it for any other player for that matter. When young QBs are drafted to be the future franchise players of the teams who take them, they aren’t given spot duty either. They either start right away or they start after sitting for a year or two. Hughes had the unfortunate task of playing behind two possible future HOFers, and I believe without question this stunted his growth as a player. Now in Buffalo under Rex Ryan’s tutelage he has the potential to become a monster at a position that’s still an obvious need for the team that gave up on him. Years from now NFL talking heads and fans alike will revisit this topic whenever the subject comes up of “Where are they now” with relation to Hughes and Sheppard, especially when the post season arrives. More importantly right now, the trickle down effect can even be measured by looking at the up coming draft. Had the Colts kept Hughes, their draft day needs most assuredly change as far as priorities are concerned.