(Image – @Wahoops Instagram – @Hawkedits)
On December 29th, 2018, the Virginia football program won its first bowl game in thirteen years. Merely hours following the 28-0 thumping of South Carolina, third year cornerback Bryce Hall announced that he would, in fact, be returning to Charlottesville for his fourth and final year in a Virginia uniform. Hall decided to finish what he started and further cement his legacy at UVA, rather than turn his attention to the NFL Draft, where he was projected as a likely first round pick.
Fast forward roughly ten months later, and Hall was being carted off the field in Miami after breaking his fibula and tearing his deltoid ligament. Only six games into his fourth-year season, Hall was forced to have surgery that ended his college career.
As a result of that surgery, Hall was unable to take part in the NFL combine, and with the disruption of the draft process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams couldn’t ever work Hall out to evaluate just how well he’s recovered from the injury.
Despite those concerns, the Harrisburg native was still projected to be selected at some point in the second round. But as day two of the draft unfolded, Hall went undrafted through the first three rounds. He’d have to wait until the 158th pick of the draft to hear his name called, as he was selected by the New York Jets in the fifth round.
Hall’s fall in the draft is the result of a number of factors.
First, the injury concerns are legitimate. Especially for a player who had already been knocked for lacking speed, a serious ankle injury is concerning.
Secondly, the disrupted draft process due to the pandemic only underlined the uncertainty of Hall’s health. He can say he’s healthy and on track all he wants, but teams aren’t comfortable drafting a player in the early rounds unless they know he’ll be a contributor in the coming years. As the saying goes, availability is the best ability.
Thirdly, Hall is not a universal scheme fit in professional defenses. Virginia’s heavy reliance on zone principles meant that Hall never really displayed himself as a man to man corner. That lack of experience and subpar quickness essentially boxes him into playing in a cover 3 defense (zone defense with the two outside corners and free safety playing deep zone), or being given the opportunity to develop as a man-to-man press corner.
The necessary scheme fit, along with significant injury concerns are why Hall fell from a first-round prospect to a fifth-round selection. Talent-wise, did the Jets get a steal at pick 158? Yes, but his health and development into the New York defensive scheme will be the true deciding factors as to how successful Hall will be.
Speaking of the Jets’ defensive scheme, the selection of Hall does raise some questions since defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (yes, THAT Gregg Williams) tends to employ man-to-man schemes where the corners are relied upon to guard individual receivers. This suggests that Hall will be asked to develop his press coverage ability rather than fit into the Cover 3 scheme so many scouts figured he would.
In the Jets defense, Hall will be competing for the second outside corner job after New York signed free agent corner Pierre Desir to stabilize their cornerback room. Assuming there is some semblance of training camp this summer, Hall will be in competition with Jets returners Blessuan Austin, Nate Hairston, and Arthur Maulet, along with new trade acquisition Quincy Wilson for that starting spot opposite Desir.
Austin, a 2019 6th round pick, missed the first half of last season before filling in as a starter on the outside following a number of injuries and poor performances from the starters. He played well for a six-game stretch, before being benched for the remainder of the season after giving up a deep touchdown in the penultimate game of the year. Similar to Hall, injury concerns (two torn ACLs in college) dropped Austin from a high round prospect to a day three pick.
Hairston, a 2017 fifth round selection by the Colts, was traded to New York before last season, and started to open the year. Unfortunately, his play was not where it needed to be, and he was benched midway through the season.
After a college career at Memphis, Maulet was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017 before bouncing around the league for two years and then finding his home in New York. Maulet started opposite Austin throughout the second half of last season, and displayed consistency as an outside corner.
Wilson, formerly a Colt, was acquired by the Jets in exchange for the 211th pick in the 2020 draft. He was originally drafted by the Colts with the 46th pick in the 2017 season. Wilson started 29 games in his three-year stint in Indianapolis, and is likely the favorite to snag the second outside starting job.
But, first and foremost, Hall needs to get healthy. He’s said that he’ll be back to 100% for training camp, which is encouraging. After that, it will come down to how quickly he can get accustomed to the Jets’ system. Any cancellations or delays caused by COVID-19 will be a disadvantage for him, particularly because all those he’ll be in competition with have either already played in the Jets’ system or started for multiple seasons elsewhere in the league.
If all goes according to plan with his recovery, and he’s afforded a traditional offseason to grow comfortable, expect Hall to battle it out for the CB-2 role, with a likely guaranteed number of snaps, for developmental purposes, even if he doesn’t win out. If issues arise either in his recovery or as a result of the pandemic, he’ll likely enter the season as CB-3 or CB-4, looking to use practice as his adjustment period.
All in all, it’s disappointing that Hall fell so far, especially considering how much he’s done for the Virginia football program. There’s anything but certainty surrounding this upcoming NFL season, so saying Hall will have an opportunity to prove his value this fall would be tone deaf, but he has signed an NFL contract, and whenever football returns, you can bet Bryce Hall will be champing at the bit to begin establishing his next great legacy.