2021 NFL draft prospects: Cincinnati OT James Hudson III

Eric Edholm
·4-min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Cincinnati OT James Hudson III

6-foot-4, 302 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.74 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Athletically gifted, developmental left tackle who is still a few years away from hitting his peak after switch from defense

Games watched: Boston College (2019), Memphis (2020), Houston (2020), Georgia (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 240 nationally), Hudson drew attention from several major programs, including Alabama, despite not blossoming as a player until his junior season. When his dream school of Ohio State didn’t show interest in the two-way standout (defensive tackle and left tackle), Hudson committed to the Buckeyes’ rival, Michigan. After redshirting as a defensive tackle in 2017, he saw limited action (31 snaps) as a reserve right tackle in three games during the 2018 season. Hudson then transferred to Cincinnati and — after the NCAA initially denied his hardship waiver — sat out the regular season before making his Bearcats debut as the starting left tackle in the bowl game against Boston College. In 2020, Hudson started every game at left tackle, earned all-conference first-team mention and was invited to the Senior Bowl as a redshirt junior.

Upside: Terrific athletic traits and movement skills. Light on his feet with late reaction skills to cut off rushers and short-circuit line twists and stunts. Moves like you’d expect from a converted defensive lineman, with good bend and flexibility. Gets low and gets underneath defenders.

Big hands (11 inches) with outstanding grip strength. Can dominate when he gets his hands inside and times his punch well. Will stun opponents with his initial blow.

Plays with an edge — seeks to bury people. Plays through the whistle and won’t back down from a rock fight. Appears to enjoy testing the toughness of his opponents. Aggressive demeanor is one of his hallmarks and a great combination with his athletic template. Defensive mentality.

Played shockingly well in 2020 as first-time starter — zero sacks allowed. With some elements of his game, it looked like he’d been lining up at left tackle for multiple seasons. Went from off of scouts’ radars to very much on it in a hurry.

Solid Senior Bowl week. Handled one-on-one pass rush drills well and appeared to pick things up quickly.

Downside: Project — raw, one-year starter. Only 719 snaps in his college career. Rawness shows out at times with technique and balance issues.

Flagged for seven penalties in 2020, including a targeting foul in the first half of the bowl game against Georgia that essentially ended his college career. Flagged for silly fouls, such as an unsportsmanlike penalty on an extra point (SMU) and multiple false starts last season. Carries that defensive mentality too far — could stand to reel in his intensity and emotions at times.

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Limited length and bulk. Passable wingspan (82 1/8 inches) and arm length (33 inches) and could be a left guard candidate for some teams.

Really struggles against power and loses leverage battle when he leans or doesn’t land his initial punch squarely. Will turn his body too much and get his feet out of position. Exposes his chest and gives defenders a free target.

Also struggled with the speed of Georgia’s first-round prospect, Azeez Ojulari, in the first half before being ejected. Footwork (especially his kick slide) needs refinement and reps. Can be frenetic in his approach. Will bear hug defenders, which can lead to easy flags.

Best-suited destination: Hudson is a complicated evaluation because of his inexperience and rawness, but his high-end traits are enticing. We’d like to see him end up in a zone-blocking system and be groomed as a left tackle, perhaps for a team such as the Seahawks, Eagles or Rams (who have aging left tackles). If Hudson is allowed to start early in his NFL career, there could be some growing pains. With patience, he might end up an intriguing player.

Did you know: Hudson’s transfer from Michigan was an ugly affair. He and the family had some uncomfortable meetings with Jim Harbaugh and members of the Wolverines’ coaching staff, and Hudson later went public with mental-health concerns, citing depression. The standoff essentially boiled down to both sides suggesting the other one wasn’t telling the whole truth about Hudson’s situation in Ann Arbor.

Player comp: If he pans out, perhaps Hudson becomes a La’el Collins-like lineman. If not, perhaps he’ll be more on the Cedric Ogbuehi or Yodny Cajuste track.

Expected draft range: A top-50 landing spot wouldn’t be stunning, but if not he likely won’t get out of Day 2.