Editor's Note: Each week Mel Kiper Jr. will highlight one of the intriguing "sleeper" prospects available for the 2001 NFL Draft.
DELVIN HUGHLEY -- CB -- JACKSONVILLE ST.
The 5-foot-11, 204-pounder has been a four-year starter at cornerback with the Gamecocks, breaking up four passes and also coming away with an interception during his redshirt freshman campaign back in 1997. From that point on, Hughley has been a blue-chip performer at the Division I-AA level.
After intercepting three passes and breaking up nine others as a junior, Hughley has proven once again to be an elite defensive performer in the Southland Conference this year. Through eight games, he has come away with two interceptions while also pacing the Gamecocks defense with 13 pass-breakups. In addition, Hughley has recorded 58 tackles (40 solos). He's also forced two fumbles and recovered another.
Against Nicholls State on Sept. 9, Hughley returned an interception 30 yards for a TD. He also proved to be a key performer when the Gamecocks upset Northwestern State on Nov. 4. At the time, Northwestern State was ranked fifth in the nation at the Division I-AA level.
Throughout his excellent career with the Gamecocks, Hughley has proven to be consistent and also extremely durable. His ball skills are excellent, and he has the physical strength to hold his own against the big wide-outs at the pro level.
The big question is level of competition. Hughley hasn't been pressured to match up in man coverage against top-flight wide receivers on a game-to-game basis. Even so, Hughley has shown that he has the physical and athletic skills to make the successful transition. Plus, he's technically sound and has the necessary instincts for the position.
To close out the season, the Gamecocks will be facing Louisiana-Lafayette on the road this week, then finish with a home game against Troy State.
||Hughley's ball skills are excellent, and he has the physical strength to hold his own against the big wide-outs at the pro level. ”