BBD Staff Writer: Evan Sidery
On Monday, the Buffalo Bills orchestrated a rare player-for-player swap, sending third-year inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to the Indianapolis Colts for a raw pass-rusher entering his fourth season in Jerry Hughes.
While this move opens up a possible starting spot at inside linebacker for second-round pick (No. 46 overall) Kiko Alonso, getting Hughes could help bolster the Bills’ pass-rush. Hughes, however, was nothing short of a bust in Indianapolis.
Hughes was drafted to be the elusive third pass-rusher, rotating in behind Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, that Bill Polian coveted at the time. Unfortunately, the TCU product did not fit the Colts’ 4-3 defense well. In his first two seasons with the Colts as a 4-3 defensive end, Hughes had a putrid stat line of only 21 tackles and a sack in 24 games.
Hughes finally got a chance to get into a role he should have thrived in when he became a 3-4 OLB last season as the defense changed under new head coach Chuck Pagano.
Hughes started six games last season, as a result of Mathis and Freeney both missing time due to injury. Hughes finished with 41 tackles and four sacks, a big improvement from his previous two years. But Hughes only showed some flashes of brilliance on rare occasions. He often took terrible angles, and was criticized for his lack of motor on the field.
Hughes also has some character concerns, as he was arrested for public intoxication in Texas during the 2011 off-season. He should be fine off the field, however, if he can be mentored by the team’s defensive leaders, such as Mario Williams.
Looking ahead to how Hughes should fit in with the Bills’ defense, expect him to be a contributor on special teams and in a pass-rushing role on third down. He is expected to be behind Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, and Manny Lawson on the depth chart among hybrid pass-rushers.
One thing that will help Hughes is his scheme versatility. Although he was a poor fit for the 4-3 defense, he can put his hand in the dirt and rush off the edge if needed. Being in a four-man rotation with the likes of Williams, Anderson and Lawson should give Hughes some great leaders to learn from.
A change of scenery could also help revitalize Hughes’ career. His role this upcoming season will likely be small, but if one of the three main edge-rushers go down to injury, Hughes will be vaulted into a bigger role.
While Hughes has been a disappointment with the Colts, he displayed major potential at TCU, where he was used as a pass-rushing specialist, a role he could thrive in on the Bills defense.
Hughes fits Buffalo’s versatile defense, which should highlight his positives more than his negatives. If he can show his passion for the game with an improved motor, and add more moves into his pass-rush repertoire, Hughes could be a nice acquisition by general manager Buddy Nix and assistant general manager Doug Whaley in Buffalo.