The Minnesota Vikings selected Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes with the 30th pick in the first round on Thursday night, resisting temptation to pass up a premium position while counting on depth in the pool of offensive linemen to help them later in the draft.
Hughes played only one season for UCF, helping the Knights finish undefeated in 2017 with four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and four touchdown returns. He scored twice on kickoff returns, once off an interception and once on a punt return.
"I knew they were pretty excited about me. So once they got the chance to grab me, I'm not surprised," Hughes said. "I'm definitely blessed to be in this position.
Hughes became the third cornerback drafted in the first round by the Vikings in the last six years, with current starters Xavier Rhodes coming in 2013 and Trae Waynes coming in 2015. Terence Newman became a free agent and has not yet re-signed. Mackensie Alexander, their second-round pick in 2016, has yet to hold of the nickel role. So the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Hughes ought to have a place in coach Mike Zimmer's defense, with the ability to play outside or inside.
"We didn't do it to push Mackensie. We're just trying to get good football players in here and shake it out and whoever ends up playing plays," Zimmer said. "I'm not married to anybody, so we just go out and try to get the best players in the field. Quite honestly, in today's NFL with as much throwing as is going on, I could see four corners in a game at one time."
Returning kickoffs would be welcomed, too, where the Vikings have yet to find a productive replacement for Cordarrelle Patterson after his departure following the 2016 season. Punt returner Marcus Sherels, entering his ninth year in the NFL, dropped off a bit in 2017.
"This kid will help us in all phases of special teams, and then we're going to mature him into being a full-time player," Zimmer said. "I don't know how soon that will be, but he's got the traits that we're looking for."
Hughes started his college career in his home state with North Carolina, but he left the program after one year. He was involved in an altercation at a fraternity house on campus that led to a misdemeanor assault charge. He also told the NFL Network last week that there was a sexual assault allegation against him , a case that authorities dropped for insufficient evidence. After spending the 2016 season at a community college, Hughes transferred to UCF.
Hughes met with the Vikings at the scouting combine and on a draft prospect visit to team headquarters. What did he tell teams about his off-the-field issues?
"Just tell them what I've learned from it, how I've overcame all the things that happened," Hughes said.
Offensive tackles went ninth (Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey) and 15th (UCLA's Kolton Miller) to San Francisco and Oakland. Division rival Detroit used the 20th pick on Arkansas center Frank Ragnow, a native of Chanhassen, who could play guard in the NFL. Cincinnati went with Ohio State center Billy Price at No. 21. New England took Georgia tackle Isaiah Wynn, who has been projected as a guard, with the 23rd selection.
Still, the Vikings had plenty of offensive linemen widely given first-round grades to choose from on Thursday night when their turn finally came more than three hours into the draft. The top prospects available included UTEP guard Will Hernandez, Iowa center James Daniels and Texas tackle Connor Williams, all three of which carry the potential to replace retired right guard Joe Berger in the starting lineup.
"Looking at the board there's still a lot of quality depth on the offensive line, but there's also a lot of quality depth throughout the rest of the draft," Spielman said. "So I'm excited for tomorrow. Potentially moving up or potentially moving down. We'll see how the board starts to fall in the beginning."