5.26 (157): Doug Hogue
Outside Linebacker, Syracuse
Deep into the fifth round, the Lions finally “addressed a need.” That is, they finally took a player who plays a position that fans and media identified as a weak spot in the starting lineup. But just taking a linebacker doesn’t mean the “need” has been “addressed;” if a late-fifth-round player stepped off the plane and into the starting line, it’d be surprising. Does Doug Hogue really have what it takes to challenge for a starting role?
Hogue, at 6’-3”, 235 pounds, is slightly shy of prototypical Schwartzingham OLB size. However, he was the fifth-fastest linebacker at the combine, turning in an official 4.63. With that combination of height, weight, and speed, he has a lot of potential. Like Johnny Culbreath, Hogue has the tools to become an above-average NFL player. Unlike Johnny Culbreath, it’s because Hogue’s only been playing his position for two years.
Maybe we should back up. First, I suggest you read this SyracuseFan.com Doug Hogue feature, which gives you a peek into just how long and winding Hogue’s road to the NFL has been:
“Who the heck is that?” Roosevelt High coach Anthony Fiorelli demanded. “Who is that running the ball?”
The answer came from one of the assistants standing motionless in the backfield, his jaw scraping the grass.
“That’s Doug Hogue, coach. He goes to Mark Twain Elementary School. And he’s coming here next year.”
The first play from scrimmage Doug Hogue ever made with the varsity was a run anybody who witnessed it can still recount juke move for juke move.
Fiorelli certainly knew what he was watching. He’d coached three Division I players before. And even as a scrawny 14-year-old, he knew Hogue was destined to be the fourth.
“You just knew it right there,” Fiorelli said. “Even at that age, you knew he was going to play major college football.”
It’s a story Fiorelli loves to retell at every opportunity — not because he can boast some sort of eye for talent, but because its the first chapter of an urban fairy tale.
Hogue grew up into a pretty big boy: 6’-3", 210 pounds by the end of high school. Those moves and that speed in that big of a package is bound to attract attention—and sure enough, Hogue was rated a four-star RB prospect by Scout.com, and a three-star (5.6) by Rivals. He racked up a very impressive offer list of Big Ten and Big East schools, including Michigan and Michigan State. Neither made his top three, however; the Yonkers native went fifty miles along I-95 to Syracuse University.
Hogue was added to the mix at tailback, and in his first two years he tallied 483 yards on 111 carries. Oddly, 77 of those carries came in his freshman season. His role in the offense actually decreased his sophomore year, despite his YpC increasing from 3.26 to 6.63 (4.41 if you take out an 82-yard touchdown run)! Syracuse blog of record Troy Nunes Is an Absolute Magician suggests it’s because Greg Robinson hates Doug Hogue. But the man Michigan fans know as GERG (apparently in Syracuse territory it’s GROB) was axed, and Hogue was moved to outside linebacker after the first spring practice. Per The Cuse Connection, Hogue made an immediate impact:
In his first career start at linebacker against Minnesota in the Dome, Hogue recorded four tackles. Two weeks later against Northwestern Hogue led the defense with 11 tackles, seven of them solo. A week later against South Florida, Hogue added another 5 tackles and his first career sack.
He finished the year with 72 tackles, 49 solo, 16.5 TFL, and 9.5 sacks—6.5 of those TFL coming in one MONSTER game against Rutgers. That performance broke Syracuse’s single-game TFL record—previously owned (in part) by Dwight Freeney—AND earned Hogue the Walter Camp Football Foundation National Defensive Player of the Week. Phil Steele named Hogue to his All-Big East second team, to boot.
In Hogue's second season at linebacker, he switched to the weak side, and took it to the next level: starting all thirteen games, Hogue notched 95 tackles (60 solo), 10.5 TFLs, and three sacks. He earned Player of the Week honors from both the Big East, and the Walter Camp Football Foundation again with his performance against West Virginia: 10 tackles (8 solo), 2 INTs, half a sack, and a batted pass. By the end of the season, he’d led the defense in tackles four more times, and was named First Team All-Big East.
In just two seasons (25 games) on defense, Hogue climbed his way to ninth on Syracuse’s all-time TFL leaderboard. Impressively, he put on about ten pounds from the start of his senior year to the combine, and didn’t slow down at all (the lower of his two 40 times was a blazing 4.52!). Comments from Hogue’s high school coach just before he committed to Syracuse indicate the Orange didn’t build Hogue’s body out to its maximum potential, either:
“Doug hasn’t touched a weight in his life. He’s incredibly strong from doing natural movements like pushups and pull-ups. Three kids had dislocated shoulders from trying to tackle him last year. His potential in the weight room is insane. I think he’ll end up a 235 pound running back running a 4.4 forty-yard dash. Our school is small. Our starting center last season was 140 pounds. If he played for Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, NY, Doug would be one of the top 20 recruits in the nation.”
What are the experts saying?
- My friends at Sideline Scouting:
Positives: Athletic and speedy, transitioned from running back to linebacker in 2009... Has pretty good coverage skills for the position... Plays with a lot of passion, tries hard to improve as a linebacker... Had good production in 2009 and 2010, combined for 167 tackles, 12.5 sacks and three interceptions in those two seasons... Shows good quickness and flexibility, hips are pretty fluid... Has very good range, can get sideline to sideline pretty quickly... Does a pretty good job blitzing off the edge and is shifty enough to shoot gaps when blitzing... Has a lot of upside, but will need to continue to work hard to improve as an all-around player.
Negatives: Doesn't have great size or strength, will need to put on some bulk to make the transition to the NFL smoother... Inexperience at linebacker position shows, does not have great instincts, takes too long to diagnose plays and will get fooled by misdirection plays far too often... Struggles to get off blocks, does not have the size to overpower blockers and disrupt plays... Not the surest tackler, wraps up fairly well but does not have the strength to drag some ball carriers down after contact... Has some minor durability issues (knee injury), size may be some cause for concern in that area... Is still very raw, will likely need some time to adjust at the next level.
- Pro Football Weekly:
Positives: Has a frame to carry added bulk. Very athletic with good movement skills, knee bend and hip flexibility. Redirects efficiently. Chases hard and can run and hit. Accelerates quickly, ranges to the sideline and shows burst to close when he sees it. Flashes explosive striking ability and potential as a blitzer. Good character. Stood out at the East-West Shrine Game.
Negatives: Does not play with pop or power in his hands — only 18 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine. Not stout at the point. Stays stuck on blocks. Speed-dependent as a blitzer. Still developing positional instincts. Most production comes when he has a clear path. Could require extra reps to understand a complex game plan.
Summary: Undersized, athletic, field-fast, converted running back with starter potential on the weak side in a 4-3 where he could be protected and allowed to flow to the ball. Could require patience but should be able to contribute readily on special teams.
Positives: Athletic linebacker who displays tremendous skill in space. Shows good awareness and instincts to quickly locate the ball. Gets depth on pass drops, displays outstanding skill in coverage, and constantly around the ball. Very aggressive and productive in his all-around game. Fluid pedaling in reverse and smooth opening his hips in transition. Stays with tight ends or running backs down the field, plays with explosiveness, and moves quickly in every direction. Immediately alters his angle of attack and loses no momentum. Breaks down well and uses his hands to protect himself.
Negatives: Lacks bulk and easily controlled at the point of attack. Gives effort defending the run but not stout at the point.
Analysis: Hogue showed tremendous improvement the past two seasons and ranks as one of the more underrated weakside linebacker prospects in this draft. In many ways he reminds us of former Syracuse star Keith Bullock, and like the NFL veteran, Hogue should eventually find his way into a starting unit at the next level.
Strengths: Works best in space and to the sideline, scraping to chase down backs before they get the corner. Has a strong safety build and is smooth in coverage of running backs and tight ends from the strong-side position. Gets his hands on a lot of passes by staying home. Good recovery speed when beat on play-action or misdirection. Used regularly on run and pass blitzes, can catch running backs from behind from the backside or wiggle through creases to track down quarterbacks in the pocket. Defeats cut blocks on the run.
Weaknesses: Lacks strength at the point of attack, losing leverage battles against fullbacks and tight ends and winds up on the ground too often. High-cut defender doesn't always break down easily in space. Ballcarriers can stiff-arm him easily. Does not beat blocks to reach the quarterback when blitzing. Has fair hands but dropped potential interceptions. Had arthroscopic surgery on right MCL/meniscus after an injury in the 2010 spring game.
You see a very, very consistent picture: Hogue’s height, weight, speed and athleticism give him the potential to start in the NFL someday—and he isn’t maxxed out yet. He’s still raw technically, and doesn’t always make use of what size and strength he has. He’s more of a hunter and pursuer than a guy who’s going to meet a ball carrier in the hole and pop him—but this may be due to lack of instincts/experience putting him a step behind at the snap. Still, he’s an excellent pursuer, and if the defensive line can keep blockers off of him—Hello, Nick Fairley!—he should be able to make plays from the weak side soon, if not right away.
But who cares what I (or the experts) think? We appeal to the dispassionate Circuit Court Judge Panel of NFL Potential: YouTube Highlight Reels!! Unlike Johnny Culbreath, there is an Doug Hogue-specific YouTube Highlight Reel:
Next up, two video vignettes featuring extensive player interviews about Hogue's switch to linebacker. The first is from the spring practice where he was switched, and the second was recorded a few games in:
I can't embed it, but CBSSports.com has its own Doug Hogue highlight reel.
What do we see? Again, a lot of what they told us above: a lot of speed, a lot of backside pursuit, a lot of playmaking. Not much running through guys, not much blowing stuff up before it happens, but definitely a guy who stands out athletically.
Where does he fit on the Lions? Honestly, I don’t see him as an immediate upgrade over Ashlee Palmer, more like an immediate rough equivalent with notably higher upside. Honestly, Hogue reminds me of Ernie Sims, minus the musculature, plus some height, minus some pop, and minus some crazypants. Hogue is knocked for a lack of instincts, but not a lack of decision-making; unlike Sims, Hogue is sometimes a step slow to get to the correct hole, rather than flying two steps past the correct hole with his hair on fire.
If you're thinking it's ridiculous to compare a former #1 overall recruit in America, who was drafted with the eighth overall pick, to a fifth-round converted running back, you may have a point. But remember: Hogue graduated his small public high school at 6’-2,” 210 having “never touched a weight in his life.” Ernie Sims, meanwhile, graduated from a private Florida football powerhouse rocked up like Wesley Snipes in Blade. Sims was made the centerpiece of one of the best college defenses of the last decade, while Hogue was a tailback in the doghouse of one of the least-well-regarded college football coaches of the last decade.
However valid the comparison is, Ernie Sims is gone—and for the first time, we have an idea who his replacement may be. If the lockout shortens the offseason much further, I can’t expect Hogue to see time at linebacker this season. He’ll certainly be an immediate contributor on special teams, though—and who knows? Maybe by the end of the year, he’ll make a play that’ll leave us all shouting, “Who the heck is that?”