In an intriguing and divisive 2021 NFL Draft safety class, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga offers a tough-tackling, versatile, playmaking, skillset that could see him be one of the first taken later this spring.
Talanoa Hufanga NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Safety
- School: Southern California
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’1″
- Weight: 215 pounds
USC safety Talanoa Hufanga heads to the 2021 NFL Draft as one of the most versatile defensive players in the class. At Crescent Valley High School, he was completely versatile. An athlete, and a true multi-position freak of a player. In addition to football, he played basketball, honing his agility that would make him a terror on the gridiron.
As a high school junior, he played defense as well as lining up at QB and RB. Defensively, he put up 19 tackles including three for loss, plus three interceptions. Although he completed less than half his passes, he threw for 846 yards with a 7:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
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Furthermore, he ran for 643 yards and 17 touchdowns on 74 carries. As a result of his performances, he earned USA Today All-Oregon Second Team honors. As a senior, he leveled up. Playing safety he notched 44 tackles including seven for loss, four interceptions, and a forced fumble.
Switching from throwing passes to receiving them, he snagged 35 receptions for 696 yards and 11 touchdowns. Another seven touchdowns came on the ground. As his profile grew, Hufanga was named the 2017 Polynesian High School National Player of the Year.
A four-star recruit, he was ranked as the number two athlete in the nation. He was also the best prospect in a talented Oregon state class. Although he entertained an offer from the hometown Oregon Ducks, he committed to USC in late December 2017.
Talanoa Hufanga’s college football career at USC
Within three years, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga has gone from explosive high school athlete to exciting 2021 NFL Draft prospect. He made an immediate impact for the Trojans, making his debut as a freshman against UNLV. After logging his first pass breakup against Texas, he had a breakout game against Arizona State.
He gave a glimpse of his tough tackling ability with 2.5 sacks against the Sun Devils. Unfortunately for the USC safety, the breakout was followed by a broken collarbone. Due to the injury, his freshman season was over by the end of October.
As a sophomore in 2018, he continued to build his reputation as a violent tackling machine. Hufanga racked up 90 tackles (7.5 for loss), with three sacks, and two forced fumbles. Earning All-Pac-12 Third Team recognition, he began to appear on the NFL Draft radar. It was, however, just a precursor to what would come next.
In 2020, Hufanga was a consensus All-American, First Team All-Pac-12, and the 2020 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Leading the Pac-12 in solo tackles and interceptions, he proved to be a force. Not just as a tackler, but as a playmaker in coverage as well.
He had an interception in four consecutive games in the middle of the shortened 2020 season. In his three years as a USC safety, he had 11 games with double-digit tackles.
Following his phenomenal junior season, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga opted to forego his senior season and declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Talanoa Hufanga’s NFL Draft Profile
USC safety Talanoa Hufanga is one of the toughest tackling defensive players available in the 2021 NFL Draft. He chooses violence on almost every play. He hits hard, and he showcases exceptional tackling form at the line of scrimmage. Hufanga does his best work against the run, playing in the box. That’s where he can use impressive short-area explosiveness to seek out and destroy the ball carrier.
That same explosiveness makes him an intriguing pass rusher as well. There are multiple examples on tape of him exhibiting impressive pass rush techniques. He has the explosion and physicality to get through the offensive line and attack the quarterback. As a result, he has 7.5 career sacks as a safety at USC. The violence he brings in tackling has also resulted in four forced fumbles.
In pass coverage, his football IQ and instincts lead to him making impressive plays in the short-to-intermediate area of the field. Hufanga exhibits a good understanding of underneath concepts. He has the explosion to act on those instincts and make plays on the ball.
Versatility is a buzzword in the NFL. In this 2021 NFL Draft class, Talanoa Hufanga is as versatile as they come. He is credited with having aligned at 21 different positions in the 2020 season alone. He has played in the box, dropped into coverage as a linebacker, played single high safety, slot cornerback. You name it, and he has played there.
What are some potential concerns with Talanoa Hufanga?
Although he has been an incredible college football player, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga doesn’t come without concerns as a 2021 NFL Draft prospect.
There are multiple injuries in his football career that will raise question marks about his durability in the NFL. As mentioned above, he missed time as a freshman with a broken collarbone. The following spring he missed practice time after re-breaking the collarbone. In addition, he suffered a shoulder sprain and underwent surgery at the end of 2019. Hufanga also suffered a concussion during the game against Utah in 2019.
Although he has short-area explosion, he lacks elite speed. This has been demonstrated as a weakness in his college tape. As a result, he figures to be a liability as a single-high safety in the NFL due to his inability to quickly cover large areas of ground. There are also examples of missed tackling when he has to move laterally in coverage.
Talanoa Hufanga’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
His former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando does a better job than I ever could in describing how Talanoa Hufanga best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“He’s got a certain skillset that’s unique. There’s some hybrid type of outside linebacker/strong safety.”
In truth, the safety class of the 2021 NFL Draft is highly divisive with no clear contender for the first taken. Nor is there even a consensus on the ranking of safety prospects. In his latest big board for Pro Football Network, Tony Pauline lists USC safety Talanoa Hufanga as his third safety in the 2021 NFL Draft. He gives him a second-round grade and is his 69th overall ranked prospect.
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