One of the reasons the 49ers selected Talanoa Hufanga on Saturday night is because he reminds them of someone they know very well.
The former USC safety is a hard-hitting defender whose play style looks familiar to that of 49ers general manager John Lynch. When 49ers brass called Hufanga to inform him he was headed to Santa Clara, Kyle Shanahan shared an incredible compliment with the defender.
“We love your tape,” Shanahan said. “You’re one of our favorite players in this draft, the way you play — we love it. Our general manager, the way he played, he sees you in himself. We all want a dude who wants to come in here and hit people, so we’re pumped. We feel very fortunate to get you.”
The plan is for Hufanga to start out at safety and as a special teams contributor, but ultimately 49ers brass could move him around the defense as needed.
“Love him at safety, hits like a linebacker,” Shanahan said. “His mentality — he’s an old school badass as we say. We’re excited to get him here.”
Hufanga has a reputation for being a thumper on the field, but when I asked him about his hard-hitting reputation at USC’s pro day back in March, he was humble and deflected the compliment. His personality is similar to the mentor he has been working with throughout his draft preparation — Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu.
“That’s tough,” Hufanga said. “That’s specific to people’s opinions. Some person can hit hard and some people can say you’re not, so I just like to just play my game.
“I think the most important part, as much as you want to be a hard hitter, ultimately, the goal is just to get the ball. I really just want to get the ball every play and create turnovers. If we can do that, that’s a great defense right there.”
Hufanga also shared that he sees himself as very versatile, able and willing to play wherever he is asked. During his college career, he predominantly was seen in the box at strong safety, but he dabbled at other spots on the defense as well.
In his final season at USC, Hufanga appeared in all six contests, putting his varying abilities on display recording three quarterback sacks, four interceptions and 40 solo tackles.
“I feel like my game can be very versatile to all levels of the game,” Hufanga said. “Whether they need me at the post as a field safety or if they need me at the boundary or strong safety.
“I like to tell myself that I can do anything whether it’s being a corner, being a linebacker, and sometimes I like to blitz so if you consider me an edge rusher or a D-lineman I would love it. I just love football.”
One of the most notable qualities you see in Hufanga is his passion for the game. His appreciation for opportunities at any position were evident in his pro day media session as well as after being drafted.
“Wherever a team puts me, like our team did, I played linebacker for one game,” Hufanga said. “I was just fortunate enough just to be all around on the field. I love special teams. I was able to play punt return as well.
“Anywhere I am on the field I am just very blessed and thankful so we will see where it ends up. I couldn’t tell you.”