With all the hype and speculation surrounding Jerry Hughes and how he will fare in the NFL, I've recently started waxing nostalgic about another legendary TCU edge rusher who had big time NFL aspirations. Before he went down with a bad case of the crazies, Tommy Blake was one of the most gifted college defensive ends in the country. He started for TCU as a redshirt freshman and, had he not been overwhelmed with the pressures of NFL success, he'd probably be making the lives of at least 16 quarterbacks miserable each fall.
I have no doubt that Jerry Hughes can do the same, but what I'm really wondering is - if both came out in the same year, who would be the hotter prospect? Let's say 2009 was Blake's junior year when he should've come out, Hughes would still be his current age, and that, despite hypothetically playing on the same team, they both put up their identical numbers. Remember, both guys also came in as high school running backs that had to make the switch, so it's not like one had a leg up on the other when we're talking about development. For the sake of equality, I'm only looking at the top three years for each player. Also remember, this is the spring after Blake's junior year, so he wasn't a head case yet. Here's the case for each:
Tommy Blake - 6'5", 252.
- Finished his career with 19 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss
- One time Conference Player of the Year (2005)
- Two Time All American (2004, 2005)
- All-Conference three times
- Texas defensive player of the year in 2007.
- Made every major defensive watch list as a junior.
- Shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
Jerry Hughes, Jr. - 6'1", 255.
- Finished career with 28.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss.
- Two Time Concensus First Team All-American (2008, 2009).
- Two Time All-Conference (2008, 2009).
- Hendricks and Lott Award winner in 2009. Finalist for both awards in 2008.
- 2009 Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
- Destroyed Tokyo just for pleasure.
I chose not to compare the combine numbers between the two because Hughes was in top shape and Blake showed up a year late and about 25 pounds too heavy. Plus, his mind obviously was not in it. As a full disclosure, Blake was not drafted and signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent before being cut, but don't let that cloud your decision.
Now, I realize this is a flawed discussion before it starts because you can't compare two players who played with entirely separate defenses. I'm just asking the question: If you're an NFL GM, and all you have to go on are tangibles, who do you put higher on your draft board? Remember, Blake would've made the same switch to outside linebacker as Hughes likely will.
For me, the conversation isn't really as cut and dried as it seems. Obviously Hughes had the superior career, but you can't deny how much the NFL types look at the size and speed combination of the players they draft. To that end, Tommy Blake would certainly be hard to cast off without taking a closer look because, if you'll recall, he was an absolute BEAST on the edge. He had a ridiculous first step and could run down anyone. How many 6'5", 252 pound guys can do that? And he was commonly going up against a left tackle which is THE MOST IMPORTANT POSITION IN THE GAME, RIGHT SANDRA BULLOCK? so you have to give him credit for that.
As for Hughes, well, his numbers and accolades speak for themselves. While maybe not as tall as some would like - by comparison, Demarcus Ware is 6'4", 262 and Sergio Kindle, who is the only OLB prospect typically rated higher than Hughes is of similar size - you can't knock what the dude did on the field, even if it was against "inferior competition." Hughes also played the strong side of the ball and was consistently double teamed but, as was the case with Chase Ortiz, Wayne Daniels was able to inflate his numbers significantly, so later in the year those guys were both given a lot more attention.
Me? Well, I'm a pragmatist so I most certainly would say go with Hughes, but a lot of NFL honchos - read: Al Davis - obviously get caught up with physical specimens, which Blake certainly was. Still, I think both at the peak of their draft status would most certainly merit first round grades and any team would be well off taking them, albeit Hughes at a slightly higher position.
Unfortunately we'll never know, but if they ever invent a time machine, after Tommy Tuberville uses it to wait a week in accepting the job in Lubbock so the Tennessee job can open up, I'm getting my Bill and Ted on, swinging by Sigmund Freud's house, and then heading to the winter of 2007 and locking him in a room with Tommy. Once he agrees to give me a percentage of all future earnings, I'm kicking back and becoming a full time blogger. It's my destiny. Come on, scientists!!