2018 NFL Draft: Will former Tar Heel Mike Hughes be a first round pick?

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Mike Hughes
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Mike Hughes /

Three years ago Mike Hughes left UNC as an unknown, now he is on the verge of becoming a high draft pick

In 2015, Mike Hughes came into Chapel Hill as one of the prized gems in a recruiting class that ranked 4th in the ACC and 28th nationally.

During his lone season at Chapel Hill, he played in 11 games as a reserve and collected 12 tackles and three pass breakups. He also flashed his elite athleticism by averaging 31.3 yards per return on four kickoffs.

UNC fans looked forward to the future until he received a suspension that October for misdemeanor assault. He was eventually reinstated but left that offseason due to personal reasons.

In 2016, Hughes attended JUCO affiliated Garden City Community College and made a big splash on the field. That season he recorded 47 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups, and three kick return touchdowns.

The University of Central Florida offered him a scholarship and he joined the team this past season. He earned All-AAC honors by posting 44 tackles, a team-high 11 pass breakups, and four interceptions. In the return game, Hughes earned second-team honors with three special teams touchdowns.

His stellar season resulted in a meteoric climb up draft boards and has made him a potential first-round pick. Hughes solidified his status by impressing at the NFL Combine.

NFL Draft Expert Lance Zierlein has Hughes listed as a fringe first-round prospect. Most draft experts agree but mention off-field concerns as a reason he may fall.

A team that makes sense for Hughes is the Carolina Panthers who pick #24. The Panthers are actively looking for a cornerback and may look to bring Hughes back to the Carolinas.

Hughes is a perfect fit in the Panthers zone-heavy scheme, but his off-field issues may doom him again. General Manager Marty Hurney stayed away from questionable characters late in his first stint with Carolina and will be doing so again.

Mike Hughes will be a high draft pick, but will only be a first round pick if a team ignores his questionable background.

Next: 2018 NFL Draft: Will UNC’s Andre Smith be drafted?

If not, Hughes will likely be a day two pick where he could be taken in the second or third rounds.

For more on former UNC football players and the 2018 NFL Draft, please check back with Keeping It Heel.