American Football

Free agent profile: Did Mike Hughes show enough to be brought back in 2023?


NFL: Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions’ cornerback room may be the next position to be overhauled by general manager Brad Holmes. Will Mike Hughes be part of the renovation?

The Detroit Lions have 28 players from their 2022 roster set to become free agents in 2023 (18 unrestricted, 10 restricted), and we are covering them all throughout the month of February.

If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: CB Amani Oruwariye, RB Jamaal Williams, DT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, LB Josh Woods, CB Amani Oruwariye and CB Will Harris.

Next up:

Mike Hughes

Expectations heading into 2022

Originally drafted 30th overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2018 NFL draft, Mike Hughes spent his 2021 season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The trade to the Chiefs seemed to do some good for Hughes, who had his most productive season as a pro in Kansas City.

Once his rookie deal ended and his fifth-year option was not picked up, Hughes signed a one-year deal with the Lions. The idea was that Hughes would come in and compete with the rest of the young cornerbacks the front office had assembled for the year. And despite the injuries Hughes suffered early in his career and the subsequent inconsistent play—he had shown the ability to play both outside and at the nickel, as well as being a plus special teams contributor.

Actual role in 2022

13 games (6 starts): 561 defensive snaps
Stats: 51 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended, 2 quarterback hits
PFF Defensive grade: 59.9 (75th of 118 qualifying cornerbacks)
PFF Coverage grade: 51.4 (106th of 120 qualifying cornerbacks)

Special Teams:
13 games: 100 snaps
Stats: 3 tackles
PFF Grade: 56.7

Early on in 2022, Hughes saw most of his snaps come on the inside at nickel cornerback, with Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye starting on the outside. Like the rest of the Lions’ defense in the first half of the season, Hughes had his share of struggles—especially in coverage.

Hughes is a strong run defender who is always willing to mix it up around the line of scrimmage. Because of this play style, Hughes is at his best in a man-heavy coverage scheme. Conversely, he isn’t as good with passing receivers off and communicating in zone coverage schemes. He had issues with staying in phase with receivers, often giving up the big play when quarterbacks targeted him down the field—something that Hughes also struggled with in Kansas City.

In spite of all that, Hughes and the rest of the defense improved as the season wore on. Once cornerback Jerry Jacobs returned, he even started several games on the outside, in place of third-year cornerback Jeff Okudah.

“I thought he came out ready to work,” said Lions’ coach Dan Campbell of Hughes after their Week 17 win over the Chicago Bears. “It was always about getting Mike Hughes more plays. I mean, Mike earned his right to play now too.”

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Unlike several of the other soon-to-be free agents, Hughes has not given any indication whether or not he wants to be back in Detroit. At 26 years old, Hughes is still a young player that has shown some upside when healthy.

However, with a plethora of draft picks and cap room at his disposal, we should assume that general manager Brad Holmes will be looking to overhaul a secondary that was among the league’s worst in 2022. With just three cornerbacks currently under contract for the 2023 season (Okudah, Jacobs, and Chase Lucas), an infusion of fresh faces seems inevitable.

With back-to-back seasons where he has put out some solid tape, Hughes will likely have some suitors. Teams that are looking to take a flyer on a former first-round pick with some positional versatility could be intrigued by Hughes—especially those with defenses that feature a lot of man-coverage.

Would the Lions’ brass be interested in bringing back Hughes on a deal similar to the one he signed in 2022 (one-year, $2.25 million)? It is certainly possible. We know Campbell likes some of the things he can do, and keeping him in the fold to compete with whoever they draft and/or sign in the offseason would be an idea I could get behind.

How do you think the Lions should approach Mike Hughes this offseason?

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