USC safety Talanoa Hufanga declares for the NFL draft

USC safety Talanoa Hufanga sacks Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The All-American anchor of USC’s defense is on his way to the NFL.

Talanoa Hufanga, whose spectacular play during the Pac-12’s shortened season earned him the conference’s defensive player of the year honors, declared for the draft Wednesday, two days after Trojans offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker made a similar announcement.

“It is truly an honor to wear the Cardinal and Gold and have the opportunity to earn a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the nation,” Hufanga wrote in a letter posted to social media. “My experiences over the last 3 years have been some of the greatest of my life, and I will cherish them forever.”

Hufanga’s decision comes after a season in which he established himself as one of the premier defensive playmakers in college football. Hufanga, who became USC’s first All-American since 2017, led the Pac-12 in interceptions (four), after having never picked off a pass before this season. He finished third in the conference in tackles (62); the next closest Trojan, linebacker Kana’i Mauga, had 41.

Hufanga added three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss over the final three games of the season.

At the center of a revamped defense that relied heavily on its safeties, Hufanga’s versatility was vital to the success of coordinator Todd Orlando’s new scheme. His presence was felt all throughout USC’s defense, from the pass rush to the deep half of the field.


When USC’s depth at inside linebacker was depleted because of injuries, Hufanga stepped into the box against Washington State and had one of his most impactful performances of the season.

“He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, and he’s so football instinctive,” coach Clay Helton said Sunday. “We asked him to do so much. He plays in the post, he plays in the box, he can play man. When he pressures he can be a real detriment and a good matchup on a running back, to beat him in protection. He’s such a great playmaker.”

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How those playmaking skills will translate to the NFL will be a topic of discussion. Some view Hufanga as an obvious first-round prospect, while other prognosticators view him as more of a second- or third-round selection.

Wherever he goes, the junior safety will be missed at USC. There are no obvious replacements for Hufanga’s skillset on the roster; though, USC’s 2021 recruiting class includes three four-star safety prospects. The addition of safety Xavion Alford, a transfer from Texas, should also help mitigate his departure.