Recent history would appear to favor new Tennessee Titans defensive back Marqueston Huff. The Titans have a veritable stable of young cornerbacks and with opportunity waiting the competition in the defensive backfield should be fierce in training camp and pre-season.
At 5′ 11″ and 196 pounds, Huff has decent size for the position. Although relatively the same size as Alterraun Verner (5′ 10″ and 187) he posted one of the best 40 times for a defensive back at the 2014 NFL combine at 4.49. Huff is a former track athlete and it shows with his speed. He does have less than ideal hand size at 9 inches.
Huff played cornerback for 3 years at Wyoming as well as safety for one year by necessity so he has versatility on his side. As a four year player, he recorded 249 tackles, 140 of them solo and 7 for a loss. He added 6 interceptions and 20 passes defensed while forcing 3 fumbles and returning 2 fumbles recovered for touchdowns. He was also a team captain.
Watching film you can see the athleticism. While Huff played both cornerback and safety at Wyoming he projects as a cornerback in the big leagues.
His combine highlights are nice as well.
So where does Huff fit into the defensive backfield for the Titans? Jason McCourty has a lock on the left cornerback spot but the Titans will be looking to fill the right cornerback slot left open by the departure of Verner to Tampa Bay in free agency. The Titans also have second year players Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Daimion Stafford and Khalid Wooten on the roster.
Coty Sensabaugh has played the slot position since his rookie season and seems likely to be the favorite to win the right corner back spot. He can expect fierce competition from Tommie Campbell who competed against Verner for that role last offseason. Also don’t count out second year man Blidi Wreh-Wilson who came on strong at the end of his rookie season. Should Sensabaugh win the right cornerback job, the slot position becomes available.
The Titans seem equally set at safety at least for the interim with Bernard Pollard manning the strong safety spot and Michael Griffin back back at free safety. Ray Horton’s defensive schemes include the 2-4-5 defense as well as the 2-3-6 that utilizes 5 and 6 defensive backs. In the past he has used a safety like Kerry Rhodes to load the box. That third safety position should be George Wilson’s to lose.
Can one of the young guns unseat these three veteran players? While it’s certainly possible it seems unlikely. It doesn’t bode well that the Titans historically have been terrible at evaluating defensive back talent. Even more concerning is the attention the Titans have historically paid to the defensive back position. They drafted a defensive back in every single draft going back to their reincarnation as the Tennessee Titans in 1999. Including Huff, they have drafted a total of 34 defensive backs. Of that 34, 12 have been taken in the 4th round.
Despite some high profile successes, the majority of the Titans defensive back picks have washed out of the league. Of the 34 defensive back selections, only 10 have gone on to have a career in the league. The good news is that 2 of those were taken in the 4th round. Vincent Fuller (2005) and Alterraun Verner (2010) can be considered success stories with Coty Sensabaugh (2012) on his way to being one. Fuller, Verner and Sensabaugh are 3 of the 4 last defensive backs the Titans have taken in the 4th round.
The good news for Huff is that the trend is on the upswing with the Titans doing better in their draft evaluations in the past few years. More good news in that the 4th round has recently been particularly good for them. With a new coaching staff in place, most players will have to earn their starting jobs and a good training camp and pre-season could go a long way for younger players.
Huff’s speed and versatility in playing both cornerback and safety makes him ideally suited for the slot position in my opinion. That position could become available if Sensabaugh wins the right cornerback spot as I expect. It also puts him in excellent position to play in the 2-4-5 or 2-3-6 defense Horton likes to utilize which requires speed and great athletic ability.
They say timing and opportunity are everything and if that is any indicator Huff could conceivably see playing time. This is a new regime for the Titans but they certainly haven’t been shy about playing rookie defensive backs in the past. Ray Horton started Patrick Peterson as a rookie while the defensive coordinator in Arizona. Last season with the Browns he played Leon McFadden as a rookie and second year man Tashaun Gibson.
The competition at defensive back is going to be fun to watch. Regardless, Huff can surely take comfort in having good potential at a second career in broadcasting.
Marqueston Huff photo Courtesy of Casper Star-Tribune