Comparisons to Troy Polamalu started from the very moment Talanoa Hufanga committed to USC. Both came from Oregon to play safety for the Trojans, and both were known for their physical play style. Hufanga embraced the comparison, saying it was a standard he had to live up to. Now, he has taken it a step further, working out with Polamalu in preparation for the draft.
Name: Talanoa Hufanga
Weight: 215 lbs
2020 Stats: 6 games, 62 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 pass defensed, 2 forced fumbles
It’s unfair to compare Hufanga to a Hall of Famer, of course, because he has yet to play a down of NFL football. But he certainly lived up to expectations at USC, where he put together an impressive three-year career. He made five starts in eight games as a true freshman before a broken collarbone ended his season. Still, Hufanga finished the year with 51 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups.
He entered the next year as the unquestioned starter and finished the season with 90 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. That put him firmly on the NFL’s radar heading into the 2020 season, and he responded by putting up even better numbers while showing major growth in his ball skills. Hufanga is seemingly a bit underrated in this draft, but his elite versatility makes him a good fit for nearly any defense.
Coverage Style: Positional versatility is Hufanga’s calling card. USC deployed him in a wide variety of ways, using him as a chess piece all over the defense. He’s played as a single-high safety, a box safety, a split safety, a safety/linebacker hybrid, and even a pass rusher off the edge. And the best part is Hufanga excelled in all of those roles, becoming a key component of the Trojans defense that made it incredibly hard for opposing offenses to gameplan against them.
Coverage Skills: His coverage skills are underrated, largely because people focus more on his physical style of play. When playing back and surveying the field, he is at his best. His processing and instincts make up for his lack of elite athleticism, and Hufanga’s twitchiness makes him dangerous in more shallow zone coverages. Some weaknesses pop up in man coverage, where he relies more on physicality than mirroring skills.
Playmaking Ability: Hufanga didn’t record a single interception in his first two seasons at USC, but he exploded in that area this past year with four picks. He made strides from merely being a guy that plays tough through the catch point to understanding how to get in position for the catch. He also showed a knack for knocking the ball loose, recording four forced fumbles over the last two seasons.
Athleticism: He doesn’t blow you away with his athleticism, but he also doesn’t struggle because of it. He is athletic enough to be where he needs to be on plays, and even has the range to be effective as a single high safety. He’s fluid and precise in his motions. More than anything, Hufanga’s instincts and processing mask him not being an elite athlete. Either way, he gets the job done.
Run Support: This is where Hufanga will turn heads. He’s such a consistent, fundamentally-sound tackler and pairs that with an ability to read the defense very well and sift through the debris to get to the ball-carrier. He’s also a big hitter when the opportunity presents itself, and players never forget being hit by Hufanga.
Processing: He is one of the most intelligent players in this draft. He plays with such a heady style that not only allowed him to fly all over the field on a regular basis, but also enabled him to play so many positions on this defense. Hufanga is the kind of player who should be able to adjust to the NFL very quickly simply because of how quickly he’ll be able to digest playbooks.
Toughness: One major way that Hufanga compares with Polamalu is in their physical nature. He is never afraid of mixing it up, laying the lumber, and delivering some bone-jarring hits. He plays with a similar attitude to Donovan Wilson, and the prospect of pairing those two on the back end of this defense is certainly a tantalizing one solely because of how aggressive they both play.
Intangibles: Hufanga was a vocal leader on the Trojans defense and his exceptional play led by example in addition to getting guys lined up properly on the field. However, there are some minor concerns about his health. His freshman season was cut short with a broken collarbone and he also missed three games in 2019 with small injuries. He played every game this past year, but teams will need to be confident about his health given how physical he plays.