EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Hughes was too good for the Vikings to pass up at pick No. 30.
Minnesota landed the University of Central Florida cornerback late in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft on Thursday night, giving the Vikings even more depth in an already solid secondary.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said the organization was ecstatic to have a plyer of Hughes' caliber drop to the 30th spot. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah listed Hughes as his No. 16 overall player in his final pre-draft rankings.
"As we sat there and watched the board unfold, he was the highest-rated player on our draft board at the time," Spielman said. "The one philosophy that we've always wanted to do is follow that board to how we have it developed."
Hughes is the first cornerback Minnesota that has taken in the first round since Trae Waynes in 2015. He was listed at 5-foot-10 and 189 pounds at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
He started 11 games for UCF and made 49 tackles (37 solo) with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He added one-half tackle for loss with 11 passes broken up and one forced fumble.
Hughes said on a conference call with Twin Cities media members that he met with the Vikings multiple times prior to the draft, including at the combine and during Minnesota's Top 30 visits.
"I knew it would be a possibility," Hughes said of landing with the Vikings. "The relationship I built with the coaches I knew, they were pretty excited about me.
"So, once they got the chance to grab me, I wasn't surprised," Hughes added. "I'm definitely blessed to be in this position."
Hughes joins a secondary that includes All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Waynes and 2016 second-round pick Mackensie Alexander.
The Vikings defense ranked first in the NFL in both points and yards allowed per game, along with third-down defense during the 2017 season.
"Those are some great guys, obviously the No. 1 defense," Hughes said. "I'm just looking to build as a player and also as a man off the field.
"Wherever I can fit in in the defense, I'll do whatever coach needs me to do to put the team in a position to be successful," Hughes added.
Hughes said he can play outside or in the slot and that he brings versatility to the defense. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer echoed that sentiment in a Thursday night press conference.
"We're going to mature him into being a full-time player," Zimmer said. "I don't know how soon that will be, but he's got the traits we're looking for. We feel like he can play inside or outside as a corner."
Zimmer also noted he was a fan of Hughes' physical style of play in college.
"If you're not aggressive, you can't play for me anyways," Zimmer said. "I don't know if it's gambling or aggressive, but that doesn't bother me at all.
"I've had some pretty aggressive corners in my day," Zimmer added. "I'd rather tell them, 'Whoa,' in opposed to, 'Go.' "
Hughes can also provide special teams help, especially in the return game.
He returned 14 punts for 233 yards and a touchdown, and added 20 kickoff returns for 635 yards and two touchdowns. He was a Second-Team All-Conference selection as a return specialist.
"We have an understanding of exactly what we're looking for, and I do think the punt return and the kick return played a big part of it," Zimmer said. "We weren't as explosive in our return game as we wanted to be last year. This kid will help us in all phases of special teams."
Hughes is the second player the Vikings have ever taken out of the University of Central Florida in the first round, joining former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He is the third former Golden Knight the Vikings have selected in their draft history.
"It was unreal. I'm still in shock right now," Hughes recalled about the moment he learned he was drafted. "I think it will hit me tomorrow once I land in Minnesota."