New York Jets v Cleveland Browns
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Huff had a tremendous 2023 season in a part-time role. But he flew under the radar playing for the Jets

Overpaying in free agency is inevitable when chasing the big name or paying for past production. The goal should be to identify an ascending player who has yet to peak. The San Francisco 49ers did that two years ago when they inked Charvarius Ward to a 3-year, $40.5 million contract.

Ward was coming off a season where he missed time but had the athletic profile and heigh-weight-speed combination you look for at cornerback. Ward has increased his pass breakups in each season and, this past year, looked every bit of the All-Pro he was.

Last year, Javon Hargrave was the splash signing. Coming off a career season, he was far from under the radar. The Niners are currently -$12.56 million over the cap. But with a couple of restructurings and extensions, cap space shouldn’t prevent the team from adding a quality free agent or two.

Finding a complementary edge rusher to Nick Bosa has been more difficult than one would think. Through the years, a player has produced — from Arden Key to Charles Omenihu — but there hasn’t been a player to play next to Bosa for two years in a row.

The Drake Jackson experiment was a short-lived one. Jackson struggled against the run, and his lack of strength has made him a liability to be an every-down player. Relying on a rookie when you’re a win-now team is a big ask.

The prudent thing to do this offseason would be to invest in an ascending edge rusher who can help you for multiple years. Enter Bryce Huff.


Like Mooney, Huff was an undrafted free agent. Huff, who just turned 26, has seen his production increase every season. To say Huff’s play “spiked” in 2023 would be selling him short. He tripled his tackles for loss and sacks and doubled his pressures, quarterback hits, and knockdowns.

Despite appearing in every game, Huff never played more than 35 snaps in a game this past year. Without pretending to have watched every game of his, the New York Jets coaching staff probably didn’t feel that Huff was the type of player who could win against the run consistently.

During the final 14 games, Huff played anywhere between 37 and 54 percent of the team’s snaps. You’re signing Huff to get after the quarterback, and he did so at an elite rate.

Down the stretch, Huff had eight sacks in the final ten games. At one point, he had seven sacks in nine games. After watching the Super Bowl and knowing how critical it is to bring the quarterback to the ground, citing “pressures” is losing its allure. Sacks matters, and Huff proved that he could get home.

Injury history

I couldn’t find Huff listed on any injury reports in 2023. In 2022, he dealt with an oblique injury during the preseason but didn’t miss any time during the regular season. He was placed on the injured reserve to end the 2021 season with an ankle injury, but that happened in Week 17.

That wasn’t the only injury in 2021, as Huff sustained a back injury that forced him on the Injured Reserve in Week 7 of 2021 and kept him out until around Week 16.

But he’s two years removed from any serious injuries.


Huff played 2023 on a second-round tender, which was $4.3 million. He’s come a long way from being a healthy scratch to begin the 2022 season. Spotrac projects Huff’s next contract to be around $9.2 million annually.

You’re paying Huff not only to build on or, at the very least, maintain his 2023 production but to give your defensive line four players who can win on any given snap. The 49ers have always built on their strength, and that should continue this offseason.

The clips

As a pass rusher, you can’t be a one-trick pony and expect a sustainable NFL career. Huff showed he’s capable of winning in a variety of ways. I’m also more interested in seeing a player beat a quality opponent. That’s who you’ll go against in the playoffs, so beating the upper echelon at their positions should hold more value.

Huff did that.

Here he is rushing the passer, turning speed into power against the left tackle:

Collapsing the pocket that quickly and not giving the quarterback an escape route is impressive. That’s what happens when you get your hands on the opponent and inside first. Here’s a more extreme example:

Here is rushing against the right t,ackle. The best pass rushers have precision with their hands. Huff wins in three steps by clearing the hips of the tackle, but watch his right hand:

It’s perfectly placed when he goes to “chop” and lands on the elbow of the tackle. It doesn’t get better than that. They’re helpless if you remove an offensive lineman’s elbows or wrists.

Huff highlighted an array of moves all season. When the new defensive coordinator wants to put three defensive linemen on one side, you can trust Huff to win when he’s isolated on the other side because he has a deep bag:

Finally, he has experience playing and winning from a Wide-9 technique:

The left tackle doesn’t get a hand on him. That was on 3rd & 4.

Per PFF, Huff finished the season with a win percentage of 22.9 percent. That was good for third in the NFL among all edge rushers and an entire percentage point better than Nick Bosa. On the 49ers, one would think he could sustain that production level.

For players who rushed the passer at least 300 times, Huff had the fifth-highest sack percentage and second-highest pressure percentage. He played on a 7-10 team, so Huff was never going to receive the credit he deserved last year.

That would change on the Niners in 2024.

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