The first thought that comes to mind with a USC Safety is the legendary Troy Polamalu. Coincidentally, the Steelers legend has taken the reigning Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Talanoa Hufanga under his wing. Hufanga, also of Polynesian descent, looks to follow his childhood hero and current teacher on his way to the NFL.
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Name: Talanoa Hufanga
Weight: 199 lbs
Coverage Skills (8/10)
Hufanga is a very solid cover safety and showed that playing in a variety of roles in his time at USC. He can work well with corners on assignments and has good burst to keep up with targets up to intermediate range. He does lack elite speed which could limit him in the pros, specifically as a single-high safety. Tight ends also posed as problems occasionally, but outside of that there are no other coverage issues.
Ball Skills (7.75/10)
In three seasons at USC, Hufanga recorded four interceptions and eight pass breakups. There were a few cases of dropped picks, but a couple of them were not horrible per se. Two of the picks he did end up getting were via a batted ball. One was a jump ball deep downfield, and the other was a jumped route that resulted in a pick-six. Good to see some different situations result in positive defensive plays.
Change of Direction (7/10)
There were a few plays that popped up where once Hufanga got turned around on vertical plays, he could lose touch with his man. Since he lacks the downfield speed to catch up, this could be an issue in the NFL. However, he can take good angles on short routes and that makes up for the downfield issues.
Outside of the noted vertical issues, Hufanga plays low enough and had good enough hip movement from a cover guy.
Run Support (8/10)
Hufanga was a noticeable factor in the USC run defense, lining up from a variety of spots. It was not an uncommon sight to see him being a part of gang tackles or bringing backs to the ground himself when he had the chance. His ability to be violent getting to the ball can be both a blessing and a curse, but that can be worked on.
A big issue that popped up was in space tackling for Hufanga. On multiple occasions, he either whiffed or hesitated and missed shots to bring ball carriers down. Often this led to big plays and in one or two cases, touchdowns. This is something that must improve. However, when he did get his hands on players, they either went down or got forced out of bounds 98 percent of the time.
Hufanga, as previously mentioned, probably lacks the downfield speed to be a full-time single-high safety. His skillset would best suit him in the box, or in a two-deep set with regards to his coverage ability. He could occasionally roam around as a center fielder depending on the matchup, however.
You name the defensive role, and there is an exceedingly high likelihood that the Oregon native has played it for USC. Box safety, single-high safety, two-deep safety, edge rusher, linebacker, slot corner, Hufanga has done it all. He is better at certain roles over others, but to be asked to line up everywhere shows the faith that USC had in him. To give some credence to his ability as an edge rusher, Hufanga in his recorded 16.5 Tackles for a loss during his college career. In just his last two years he recorded 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, as well. He can play special teams.
Football IQ (8.5/10)
Hufanga understands the game as a safety quite well. He knows when to close in on his man, how to time his blitzes, and when to make plays on the ball. A good example of his football IQ was on a play against Washington State in 2020. Hufanga was a part of a blitz with six men in the box on this play. He backed off the offensive line once he saw quarterback Jayden de Loyra get set in the pocket. From there Hufanga tipped his pass right to himself and gave his offense an instant goal-to-go opportunity. He even had a nice hurdle on the way for some style points.
Competitive Toughness (4.5/5)
While he may not come up with every single tackle or ball, Hufanga’s competitiveness is not to be questioned. He plays with a purpose every snap he is on the field for. “Violent” would be a good descriptor of his playstyle.
Hufanga got knocked out of his freshman year eight games in with a broken collarbone. Earlier that season he had suffered a concussion against Utah, and the following spring he rebroke his collarbone.
Despite some injury concerns and the lack of top-end speed, Hufanga should be around the third, fourth, or fifth safety off the board. His sheer versatility should get him an inside track close to all his peers. If there is one role that would fit his skillset, though, it would be as a box safety. Getting onto a team that does not have an immediate need for safety but could use one for the future would be a great thing for his long-term development. But regardless of where he ends up, there is a lot to like about Hufanga, he just has to put it all together.
Final Grade (79.25/100): Mid-Third Round