He’ll Huff and Puff and Shut Down Your Running Game

April 13, 2009


Jackie Wagerweb asked:

By Mike Brody

WagerWeb.com Contributing Writer

Baseball might be known as the national past-time, but there is little debate about what sport Americans are most passionate about, and that is NFL football. In many sports markets around the nation, the NFL is a topic that never leaves the radio airwaves regardless of the time of year. It is late April, the 2006 MLB season is off and running, and just in case you haven’t noticed, the NHL and NBA playoffs have actually already begun. But turn on your favorite sports talk radio station and the NFL draft is dominating all other topics in the world of sports.

The hot debate this year is what the Houston Texans will do with the number one overall pick. Will they take can’t-miss RB from USC Reggie Bush? Or is hometown boy QB Vince Young the way they will go? We know Matt Leinart is no longer a lock to go number two to the Saints, now that they have signed free agent QB Drew Brees. So is OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson a soon-to-be Saint? What will the Titans, at pick three, do if Steve McNair actually sticks to his guns and refuses to return to Tennessee? There are many interesting, drama-filled storylines that make this year’s draft one of the most intriguing in recent memory, and therefore, the million-dollar question comes to mind: which projected first round draft pick will have the most impact in the NFL?

I think this is a very interesting question and one that can be debated until draft guru Mel Kiper gets a new hair-do. Everyone knows of the Bushes, Leinarts, and Youngs of the world. I have no doubt that all three of these players will eventually have good—if not great—NFL careers. What about the aforementioned D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the 6’6″ 312-pound OT from the University of Virginia? He stacks up very well physically against some of the best OTs in the NFL. Walter Jones, Jon Runyan, and Tra Thomas just to name a few. There is also little doubt that Ferguson will be a very good player in the NFL. But one player who has somewhat flown under the draft experts’ radar will, in my opinion, not only have the most immediate impact in the NFL, but when all is said and done could be at the head of this year’s draft class. His name is Michael Huff, DB from the University of Texas. Yes, that is right, I said Michael Huff. Please allow me to explain.

There is little doubt that the NFL is a copy cat league. From week to week and season to season, teams study what works and they copy it. It is also a league of trends. Here are a few trends that will help make my point about how a DB, in Michael Huff, will be the biggest impact player to go in round one of this year’s draft.

For one, take a look at the way things have changed with the running back position. These days there is so much specialization in this position that a true number one running back is no longer a must in the NFL in order to win games. There are first and second down backs, third down backs, short yardage backs, red zone backs, fast backs, and bruising backs as well as blocking backs. The Giants had Lightning and Thunder, Atlanta has Dunn and Duckett, the World Champion Steelers had “Fast” Willie Parker and The Bus, and the Broncos who for years have had the best running scheme in the league, recently have had a gaggle of backs that gets 10-15 touches a game. So the importance of the league having a true number one back has declined over the years in the NFL. Just ask Edgerrin James. That is one trend that supports my case. Reggie Bush may end up sharing carries and never have the opportunity to be the man. If he goes number one to the Texans, he will no doubt share carries with incumbent running back Domanick Davis. This trend hurts his case for being the player who will have the most impact.

Next, take a look at the QB position. More often than not these days the QB is simply asked to manage the game, make as few mistakes as possible, and are told, “whatever you do, don’t lose the game for the team”. They are not asked to win games as they once were, instead they are asked not to turn the ball over in critical parts of the game. You can win games in the NFL with a QB who simply does not make mistakes. They are no longer asked to carry the team on their backs and win every game. Check out Ben Roethlisberger’s stats in Super Bowl XL. He was 9 of 21 for 123 yards, 2 interceptions, and zero passing touchdowns. Those are not great numbers and not stats that one would expect to see from the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl. But what he did was manage the game and he did not make critical mistakes during crucial moments of the game. So, trend two in the league is to have a quarterback who simply does not lose games for the team. Therefore, quarterbacks oftentimes have the ball taken from their hands and placed in the belly of one of the team’s top two backs. Leinart and Young will be handing the ball off far more than they will be throwing it. That takes them out of the running for highest impact player in this year’s draft.

That brings me to the third trend that I see in the NFL. This is the trend that I think more teams should adopt, the trend that I am counting on to prove my point about Huff being the man in this draft. The trend is returning to the days of having a hard-hitting safety who runs around the field making plays, and wreaking havoc for the opposition’s receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks. I’m talking about a safety who can defend the pass as well as fill the box and hammer the back with the ball. A safety who makes the quarterback and receiver think twice about going over the middle, therefore taking away that part of the field. Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater come to mind as old school, hard-hitting safeties who were impact players.

These days, take a look at the impact that Troy Polamalu and Sean Taylor have made for their respective teams. Without the forceful play of Polamalu, the Steelers are a very different team. Polamalu had 73 tackles, 18 assists, 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions as a safety for the Steelers last year. Plus, he was second among all defensive players in the playoffs with 24 tackles. Taylor had 60 tackles, 10 assists, 2 interceptions, and 10 passes defended for the Redskins a year ago. Once again, great numbers for a safety. Other impact safeties are Ed Reed, John Lynch, and Roy Williams.

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Let’s break down the vitals on Michael Huff. He is listed at 6′, 204lbs. At Texas he played SS as well as CB. A 6′ safety who can hit and has the speed to run and cover is very hard to find. At the combine Huff ran a 4.34 40-yard dash. Another fact that I find helps Huff is that he is coming out of Texas as a fifth-year senior. He is mature and ready for the NFL. He is a premier candidate as a free safety in the NFL, but has the speed to play corner. Plus, I’m sure the team that drafts him will immediately put 10-15 pounds of muscle on his already stout 204lbs. frame. What a specimen he would be at 6′, 220lbs. In his senior year at Texas he had 109 tackles, up 36 from the 73 he had as a junior. That goes back to the maturity level he has reached after having five seasons to learn how to play the game.

I think looking around the league at the success that teams have had with these play-making safeties makes Michael Huff a great pick for the San Francisco 49ers at pick number six. The 49ers finished last in total defense a season ago and gave up over 390 yards of total offense per game. Huff would help in both areas and would help immediately. Huff should be the first DB taken in this year’s draft and will probably battle it out with Virginia Tech’s Jimmy Williams for that honor. I believe the days of having a hard-hitting safety to anchor your defense have returned to the NFL and I like it. Michael Huff is the next big thing to hit the NFL and when I say hit, I mean it. Huff is the man in this year’s draft and will be a fixture for years to come as an elite DB in the NFL.

The 2006 NFL Amateur Draft kicks off on Saturday, April 29 live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City and can be seen on ESPN. At noon the Houston Texans will officially be on the clock. Let the drafting begin. I for one cannot wait.

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