Hughes, a 6-foot-1, 255-pound speed rusher, is expected to fit well with the Colts' defensive scheme, according to team president Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell.
A former running back in high school who switched to defensive end as a freshman at TCU, Hughes started 27 of 49 games for the Horned Frogs, recording 142 total tackles (82 solo) with 28.5 career sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss.
"It was a long and arduous first round," Polian said. "There weren't many names left on the (draft) board in the first round. Our board was incredibly accurate. We're thrilled to have Jerry. We've been searching for the elusive third rusher for a long time. And now we feel like he can fill that bill.
"We're happy to have him. He can put his hand down. He can stand up in the "Joker" role. He's a pure pass rusher. That's what he does. The sacks and the statistics speak for themselves. He's done it against great competition. A converted running back, he was recruited to TCU as a running back. They changed him over to defense the first day he got there. He's performed admirably ever since."
While Hughes is comparable to Freeney and Mathis athletically, he is not quite the finished product that both of them were when they first came to the Colts.
"He's a talented guy. He's a guy with some versatility, particularly as a third-down rusher. He gives us an opportunity to get up the field on the outside. But he can also do some of the things we've done with three down personnel. And a guy that roams around for us a little bit. He can play that position as well," Caldwell said.
"We think he's going to be able to give us power along with that rush. He's a guy that certainly has all the moves in his package. Obviously, when (defensive line coach) John (Teerlinck) gets his hands on him, he'll get him to play like all of our guys do when they get after the passer. We're certainly pleased to have him."
By the time Indianapolis' first-round pick came around, there were still several highly sought prospects available, such as Texas defensive end/outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and Southern California safety Taylor Mays.
But the Colts opted to take Hughes, a player whose overall style of play was deemed a better fit for what the team's defense requires. He is expected to replace former Indianapolis defensive end Raheem Brock in the team's defensive end rotation, although he most likely won't get the work inside at tackle that Brock was accustomed to. Brock asked for and was granted his release in March.
"He's been on our radar for quite some time," Polian said of Hughes. "He's well-known. He was talked about, in terms of coming out (for the draft), last year. He elected to stay (in college). He had a great year (in 2009). He's far from an unknown.
"We've said, seemingly forever, that the third rusher who can substitute for Dwight and Robert is something that we have not had. And when Dwight and Robert were 100 percent healthy, the results spoke for themselves. When they've not been 100 percent healthy, the results were not what we wanted. So that's the first priority. The third rusher has been a priority of ours forever. He also adds some versatility because of his athleticism. This is a guy that runs at about the same speed as Robert Mathis. He's got both the ability to rush the passer and bore to the quarterback. But he can also can stand up and move around. He gives us a lot of flexibility to create third down packages that we've not had before and would like to have."
Had Hughes not been available, the Colts would have most likely traded down and out of the first round.
"Every pick counts. Whether it's No. 1 or the last supplemental pick in the seventh round. They all count. And we want them all to hopefully make a contribution to our squad. It's about the entire process and not just the first round. I recognize that all the focus is on the first round. But that is not what our focus is. Our focus is actually greater on the lower rounds than it is on the first. The first round process is not hard to sort out. It's the lower rounds that are really important because they are, by definition, harder to sort out," Polian said.
"When you reach for need or when you reach for the perception of need, I think you make a mistake. We're looking for the best football player we can find. And if it happens to be at a position where we have other good football players, that's okay too. We'll sort that out after the fact. You can never have enough good football players. And you can never have enough difference makers."
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