All week, I'll be running a "What to Expect" series. The goal of this series is to create realistic expectations for the Colts draft picks based on historical performance from similar players. Too often fans think of young players as 'busts' if they don't produce their rookie years, when the reality is that most rookies don't produce right away.
Let's start with Jerry Hughes. For a baseline, I'll be using Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and every 4-3 DE drafted between picks 20-45 from 2005-2009. From that data and an understanding of the unique situation Hughes is in, I'll draw up a probable rookie season for the talented first round pick.
8 starts, 45 tackles (a career high), 13 sacks, 9 forced fumbles
Freeney obviously had a massive rookie year, but most people forget that he didn't start until week 9. Some foolish people actually wondered if he might not be a bust at that point. Of course, in his first start, he forced three fumbles and never saw the bench again. Freeney did have four sacks in part time duty in the first 8 games.
0 starts, 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 FF
This is insane production from a 5th round pick. He was third on the team in sacks behind Freeny and Washington. He had 3 of his 3.5 sacks in blowouts.
Other Top Ends:
By my count there have been about five ends selected in a similar range in the last five years. Matt Roth (45), Everette Brown (43), Lawrence Jackson (28), Tamba Hall (20), Mathias Kiwanuka (32).
Roth and Brown were selected a bit lower. Brown started just one game. The two had 1 and 2.5 sacks respectively.
Among the first rounders, Jackson started 14 games, but had just 2 sacks. Hall had a monster rookie year with 16 starts, 8 sacks and 5 FF. Kiwanuka had a solid rookie year, starting 9 games and picking up four sacks.
What to Expect:
Hughes won't be starting, barring injury to Freeney or Mathis. However, he should see plenty of playing time especially late in the season. It simply isn't reasonable to expect the kind of production from him that Hall and Freeney put up because they saw the field much more than Hughes likely will. I put the over/under on sacks by Hughes his rookie year at 3. We need to see him make a few plays when he gets the chance (ala Mathis's rookie year), but if he gets 4 sacks, we should be tickled.
I know 4 sacks doesn't sound like a lot, but four would have been the third best total for a Colt in each of the past four seasons.
Expect Hughes to get on the field a few plays every game. Expect him to make some good special teams plays as well. That's how Mathis was used early in his career, and he was a demon. Look for him to make a few garbage time sacks and force a fumble or two. If he gets to four sacks, be crazy excited. If he does any more than that, it either means he's headed for super stardom or Mathis or Freeney got hurt.
All we are looking for this season is
2. Special teams excellence
3. That spark when he does play that tells us he's going to be a handful when he gets his chance.
4. 3 to 4 sacks and a forced fumble