One of the best parts of scouting is finding the underdogs at each position and watching them succeed at the next level. To me, underdogs are hard not to root for. Each player with that kind of title all demonstrate the same traits: they had to work hard, endure setbacks, and prove their worth against adversity time and time again. Those are the reasons why Oklahoma’s 6’1″ Baker Mayfield is my QB1 for this year’s draft (spoiler alert).
But we aren’t talking about quarterbacks. This a defensive back analysis series. And the underdogs I most like in this 2018 draft class are UCF cornerback Mike Hughes and Texas strong safety DeShon Elliott. Each has their own backstory worth hearing about on their rise to fame and untapped potential that the league is only just beginning to see.
When I see Hughes, one word comes to mind when I watch him play on tape: grit. Hughes plays the game with a type of passion unlike any other player in this draft. His overall feisty, in-your-face playstyle and massive chip on his shoulder helped lead his school to an undefeated 13-0 record in 2017 and reach the Peach Bowl. Out of all the cornerbacks, Hughes is the one to best support the run at the next level. His status as an aggressive tackler and proven playmaker was quickly noted by opposing quarterbacks, who eventually started avoiding throwing the ball in his direction all together by the end of the season.
Hughes is also similar to former USC corner and Titans first-round draft choice Adoree Jackson in the way that he is as versatile on special teams as he is on defense. Although he ran slower than expected at the NFL Combine in March, Hughes still managed to race for a score and 233 yards as a return man for UCF in 2017. His attraction to the football netted him 4 interceptions throughout his college career as well.
However, I think the most important trait Hughes possesses isn’t his stats, return skills, or even his personality. What I admire about Hughes is his resiliency. Merriam Webster defines resiliency as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change and I think Hughes is a perfect example. Hughes left North Carolina’s program amist sexual assault allegations, which he did not receive a charge for. He has also fielded questions regarding his character which dutifully has addressed. Through it all, Hughes has stayed resilient and focused. Now, he has a chance to become a first-round draft choice in just a couple of days.
DeShon Elliott has somewhat of a different story. Elliott had to patiently wait for his turn to shine, sitting behind other players until his junior year at one of the most famed universities for defensive backs in the nation. In his third year at Texas, Elliott earned the starting role and his presences was felt almost immediately. Elliott exploded in the Longhorn’s third game of the season against top-NFL draft prospect Sam Darnold for two interceptions, one of which was returned for a score. He then recorded another two interceptions against Iowa State a week later. His eventual six interceptions were fourth-best in college football in 2017.
One of the most attractive qualities Elliott possesses is his studious demeanor and work ethic. Elliott truly understands the benefits of the film room, and it has shown on the field. The Longhorn safety can decipher plays on the fly and uses his knowledge to blow them up for the snap. He was also a 2017 Jim Thorpe award finalist, given to the best DB in college football. Just check out this quote from an interview with DraftWire’s Justin Melo:
“You gotta want to work hard. It starts with the “want to.” You have to stay in the film room. You have to have some ball-skills about you. You better be willing to come downhill and hit, as well.”
There’s no doubt Elliott is still raw as a prospect. Before 2017, he had only earned one start and the year prior recorded only 30 tackles. He more than doubled that output. He lacks explosiveness and his hips aren’t the most fluid in the draft. His aggressiveness is what makes him great, but it can also get him into trouble.
But a team shouldn’t look away from Hughes or Elliott because of their lack of experience, or even their weaknesses. They should draft each DB because of the immense chip on the shoulder earned through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. For any franchise looking to end their woes, culture means everything in order to successfully rebound. Hughes and Elliott may be underdogs, but that doesn’t mean there’s any sort of shortage of fight in them.
To view my rankings for this year’s defensive back class, click here. To view my take on the ongoing debate over whether Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James is the top safety prospect, click here. To view my interview with Colorado safety Afolabi Laguda on his personal draft process and the Buffaloes’ defensive back program, click here.
Cole Topham is the lead editor for snacktimefantasy.com and covers the MLB and NFL. He enjoys watching his opponents suffer as he defeats them week after week in his fantasy football/baseball leagues.