As the UDFA prospect out of Memphis enters his 3rd season with the New York Jets we’ll dive into what made Bryce Huff such an enticing player for Joe Douglas to bring on board in 2020, and what has kept him on the roster since.
Mobile to Memphis
Huff started his career at high-school in Mobile, Alabama as an all-state linebacker. There was no dramatic recruiting story to speak of; Huff originally committed to South Alabama but ended up going to the University Memphis. He started with the Tigers playing special teams during his freshman year, and managed to make his way onto the field as a pass rusher during his second year.
Huff showed a lot of promise over the next 3 years, including making the all-AAC second team 2 years running. In 2019 he was in the top four in the country among edge rushers with an impressive 64 pressures. Not impressive enough though it seems to have been invited to the combine ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead he took the opportunity to show NFL teams more of what he could do at the East-West Shrine Bowl, where New Jets DC at the time, Greg Williams, was the defensive co-ordinator for Huff. 2020 Jets Draftees James Morgan and Cameron Clark also played at the Shrine Bowl, as did former Jets Safety Elijah Riley.
Overall there wasn’t enough on tape to convince teams to take a shot at drafting him in 2020. Expecting to the picked anywhere from the 3rd round to the top of day 3; Huff instead had to sit and watch the draft play out not hearing his name called. The wait after wasn’t long though; was snapped up by the Jets as soon as the draft was over; being taken on as a priority UDFA for the Jets for a $900k contract.
There’s an excellent film review of Huff here from just after he was picked up by the Jets as a UDFA.
Breaking Out is Hard to Do; But Huff is Damn Close
Going into the 2020 off-season the Jets pass rush room was, to be charitable, terrible. As well as drafting Jabari Zuniga in the 3rd round, the team brought back Jordan Jenkins to work alongside Henry Anderson, Kyle Phillips and Tarell Basham. Being a UDFA with some clear upside this is a situation where you have a real chance to compete for a roster spot.
Nothing is ever easy though. 2020 was an odd year for everyone as the world tried to cope with the global pandemic, and NFL players had to deal with working out and working as a team in a completely different way. Learning the system, getting to know the coaches and your team-mates, it all had to be so much harder that any other year.
Huff managed to make it work and got a place on the 53 man roster and has carved out a role for himself on the Jets as a situational pass rusher. In 2020 he played 14 games and flashed some, picking up 2 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss and 4 QB hits.
2021 the Jets edge room looked a lot different with the addition of Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry in free agency; but Huff again made the 53 man roster after having a solid pre-season. Tragically we didn’t get to see all of what he could be that year as he only managed 9 games before a back injury put him out for the rest of the season. Prior to that he’d been on the verge of having a potentially break out year.
In 9 starts he put up 2 sacks, 4 TFL and 8 QB hits; but what wasn’t showing in the box score stats was that Huff was winning his reps at an elite rate. You can see from Seth Walder’s graph below what company he was in just a few games into the year.
It’s a testament to Huff that, given he played most of his college either as a stand up rusher, and was taken on by the Jets when they were running the 3-4 under Greg Williams, he has been able to stick on the roster through a change to a 4-3 under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich.
Even more impressive when you consider the crowded room he’s been a part of. Veteran Vinny Curry, and Jabari Zuniga, the edge defender who was taken in the 3rd round of the draft where Huff went undrafted, both failed to make the roster this year. Huff beat them both out for a spot, and with this rotation that the Jets run under Saleh he’ll get plenty of chances to show what he can do. If he can maintain the pas rush win rate he had in 2021, and convert those wins to sacks, he’ll make sure he doesn’t lose reps to the guys lining up behind him.
Jets fans were excited about Huff last year, but it feels like with all the draft hype of Jermaine Johnson, Carl Lawson the big free-agent signing of 2021 back from injury, and Micheal Clemons’s impressive pre-season it’s easy to see why Huff may be going under the radar. One of the things that makes the Jets’s pass rush so terrifying this year is how deep they are, and Huff’s bend and ability to get the QB is a huge part of that.
Bryce Huff is UDFA a diamond in what is looking like a rough 2020 draft for Joe Douglas. With Becton’s long term future still up in the air the only other positive we can take from that draft is Bryce Hall as a back-up corner. Huff has legitimate potential to be a terror off the edge in the Jets rushing attack.
Something for Jets fans to be excited about this year is seeing these guys compete with each other for playing time. Watching the screen closely to see whether it was Clemons, Martin, Johnson or Huff who just drove Tua/Jones/Allen into the turf on a 3rd down is going to be one of the highlights of our Sundays this season.