James Hudson
UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI ATHLETICS/DREW HORTON

James Hudson has the potential to make an NFL team very very happy one day. The former Cinncinati left tackle has gotten a lot of buzz following a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and a standout redshirt junior season with the Bearcats.

While Hudson only has one season of starting experience he often looked like the best player on the Cincinnati offense in 2020. It looks unlikely that he goes past the second day of the NFL Draft without finding a team willing to take a chance on him and his high ceiling. 

What makes Hudson stand out

Hudson has been rising up draft boards all year in large part thanks to his elite athleticism. There just aren’t that many 300 lbs-plus human beings that move as smoothly as he does.

Hudson’s quickness and fluid hips made him a dominant pass blocker last year. East Carolina was one of Cinncinati’s weaker opponents but Hudson’s film from that game showed everything you’d expect to see from a tackle with all the high-end physical traits that he has. 

There were a number of reps like this one where ECU edge rushers simply didn’t have a chance because of how quickly Hudson got out of his stance. 

Hudson (55) top of screen.

Hudson’s also shown some savvy as a pass blocker like when he used this “snatch” technique to put projected first-round pick Azeez Ojulari on the turf in the Peach Bowl.

Hudson (55) bottom of screen.

Hudson’s athleticism also helped him excel in Cinncinati’s zone-blocking scheme. Zone schemes favor quick, agile lineman more than gap blocking schemes because zone-blocking relies more on an offensive lineman’s leverage and ability to work to the second level on combo blocks. Hudson looked really good getting to the second level last season.

While Hudson is a bit light for an NFL tackle, he weighed in at 302 lbs at the senior bowl earlier this month. His measurements are pretty similar to the Broncos’ Garett Bolles who just had a great season with Denver, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try to add a little bulk before his rookie season.  

Still, Hudson always looked plenty strong on tape and he didn’t have issues getting movement against down linemen on double teams, down blocks or big-on-big assignments. He also finished blocks very well last season. My favorite finish from him came in the Peach Bowl when he got into Deyonte Wyatt’s ribs and drove him 12 yards downfield before pancaking him. Wyatt’s a damn good d-lineman and about 15 pounds heavier than Hudson which makes this play all the more impressive.

Hudson (55) bottom of screen.

Hudson also looks like a very good communicator which is the most underrated quality an offensive lineman, or any football player for that matter, can have.

Some concerns

While there’s a lot to like about Hudson I think it’s fair to say that he’s one of the more developmental tackles in this year’s draft class. Tackle is already one of the most difficult positions for players to transition from college to the NFL at and Hudson only has one season of starting experience to look back on. As a result, he has a lot of work ahead of him when it comes to technique.  

While he had a few very good reps in the Peach Bowl, Georgia exposed some of his poor tendencies. On this rep from the 2nd quarter, Malik Herring catches Hudson leaning and beats him inside for a quarterback hurry. 

Hudson (55) top of screen.

Getting rid of his leaning habit and improving his hand placement should be top priorities for Hudson going forward. Whether or not those things improve will be what determines if he can reach his high ceiling. 

Potential landing spot:

Cincinnati Bengals: Third Round, 69th overall (nice)

The Bengals are in desperate need of offensive line help and if they miss out on Penei Sewell in the first round I can imagine them finding that help in their own backyard.

Scheme-wise Hudson is a great fit in Cinncinati as the Bengals have been one of the most zone run-heavy teams in the NFL over the past few seasons. As a result, they’ve often favored lighter offensive lineman in their roster construction.

 Hudson would likely have to switch to the right side of the offensive line as the Bengals invested a top 5 pick in left tackle Jonah Williams in 2019. Switching sides on the offensive line is much more difficult than many fans realize but Hudson does have some experience playing right tackle from when he was a reserve at the University of Michigan.

The downside of this situation for Hudson would be that he’d likely have to start immediately for the Bengals which wouldn’t be ideal for a developmental prospect like him. Hudson would still likely be an improvement over Bobby Hart, the Bengals’ starter for the last three seasons. 

If Hudson clicked with the Bengals he’d be on the fast track to becoming a fan favorite in the Queen City. 

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