Why Breece Hall has Pro Bowl Potential

Iowa State Cyclones RB Breece Hall
Iowa State Cyclones RB Breece Hall
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - Breece Hall has been ready for the NFL for three years. Upon arriving at Iowa State as a four-star recruit in 2019, Hall rode the bench for the first four games, but it was not long after that when he proved himself as a future pro. Hall finally started in the fifth game of that year, ripping off three touchdowns, and that was that for the next two-and-a-half seasons. Since that game, Hall has produced like one of the best backs in the country and been on NFL radars just waiting to become eligible.

Fast forward to current day and Hall is coming off one of the hottest NFL combine performances of the year. At 5-foot-11 and 217 pounds, Hall raced to a 4.39s 40-yard dash, finishing with one of the best speed scores in the class, and hopped out of the gym in both jumping drills. Hall joined every other running back in opting out of agility drills, but for the drills he did do, his performance was hard to top.

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As talented as he is, though, Hall's game revolves around his patience and tempo more than anything else. He plays a slow, cut-heavy style that trades guaranteed easy gains for the opportunity at better rushing lanes later on. There is some inherent risk with this kind of perfection-seeking style, but Hall has honed his vision and footwork in such a way that it works for him.

Whether reading out a well-blocked play or sifting through a cluttered mess, Hall always seems to have an idea of what's next and how he can get himself there. Hall does well to play off of the defense's intentions, as well as show the sudden stop-start athletic ability and quick wits to make it work on the fly.

This play is in the second half of Iowa State's match against Oklahoma State. The opposing defense had been turning to any number of gap exchange strategies up front to disrupt Iowa State. One such strategy was to have the defensive end "spike" inside and allow the linebacker to play over the top, like in the play above. Hall, upon receiving the handoff, plays slow in his first few steps, likely anticipating the spike. Hall is then able to evade the spike with ease, bounce the play wide, and work back inside of the linebacker pushing to the outside to "replace" the defensive end. Though only a modest gain, Hall's ability to free himself out wide then immediately transition back up the middle to squeeze inside the linebacker is an impressive blend of savvy and smooth movement skills.

In this example, Hall shows off his vision across the line of scrimmage as well as his ability to run tight to blocks. Iowa State is running a standard split zone concept. Against a three-down front like Baylor's where the defensive end can get washed down by the offensive tackle (75), the play is typically designed to cut back behind the tackle. Upon taking the handoff, Hall does well to press the line of scrimmage while waiting for the defensive end to get washed into the B gap, then glide back outside the tackle. That's where Hall's efficiency of space really shines. Hall's ability to press up to the block of the tight end (11) and run through contact while getting hip-to-hip with the block is exactly what it looks like to squeeze the most out of every square inch of grass and create chunk play opportunities.

Sometimes a running back needs to be able to clean up everyone else's mess. In this example, Baylor's defensive tackle twist had the offensive line's heads spinning. Iowa State is just running split zone, but the left guard gets caught chasing his guy (96) back across the formation, tearing open a rift up front wherein the nose tackle (62) ended up smack in the middle of the rushing lane. Hall remains calm, plays light on his feet, and allows the mess to sort itself out. With all of Baylor's second- and third-level fitters playing fast to tackle Hall in the wreckage, Hall somehow found an avenue to bounce the play out wide, taking advantage of the safety (13) fitting so far inside. Hall did not quite have the juice to finish this run with points, but finding that opportunity to bounce the play is a feat by itself.

Hall also has the athleticism and anticipation to make defenders miss at the second level. He is a smooth mover with exceptional stop-start explosiveness for a player his size. Though his top speed is merely acceptable, Hall has a way of cruising through the second level and getting the most out of those opportunities.

Years ago, the NCAA football video games had a feature where the game would briefly slow down if you made a ballcarrier move, giving you a moment to set up your next move, and so on. This run from Hall feels like that feature. To feel and react to the second and third defenders is special enough, let alone having the balance and burst to actually pull off each move.

Hall has honed this patient, light-footed style as well as any college back can. It worked well enough for him to earn and keep a starting job for three seasons, and it will work for him in the NFL. That said, Hall's style of play does come with some frustration. Hall's patience can boil over into hesitance from time to time. There are moments where Hall needs to slam his foot in the ground and go, like most backs would, but he instead chooses to slow up and look for the perfect cutback that never shows up.

Runs like this one should be so much simpler. Not every run has to be a home-run swing. When the defensive tackle (95) crosses the left guard's face into the A gap (between guard and center), Hall should cut the play behind the guard and get downhill. Just put that foot in the ground and go. Hall could have earned a 1-on-1 opportunity with the safety (22). Instead, Hall winds the play all the way back, runs sideways for 4 yards, and slams himself into three Baylor defenders. In the end, it may not have even been a dramatically worse run than if he had gone up the middle, but passing up easy yards like that in the NFL can be a frustrating habit to put up with.

The next question with any modern running back is about what they add on passing downs. Hall's effectiveness there varies depending on the assignment.

Hall is a fairly comfortable pass-catcher out of the backfield. He earned most of his work on swings, screens, and checkdowns at Iowa State and excelled with the ball in his hands. That is not a unique skill set, but Hall more than clears the bar for adding pass-catching value.

As a pass protector, however, Hall needs to tighten things up. Hall consistently gets out of whack in his approach to pass pro, leaving himself exposed one way or another to giving up pressure. Hall plays as though he is sprinting through his eye progression to get to the end of it rather than slowing down and seeing the big picture.

The problem on this rep is that Hall loses sight of where the protection's holes are. With the offensive line full sliding away from the tight end (11) , Hall should know there will be a massive space between the tight end and the tackle. Hall is supposed to be reading from inside to outside anyway. There is no reason for him to get antsy to help out the tight end. Of course, that is exactly what Hall decides to do, allowing the SAM to add on late to the inside for a sack.

For some teams, this will not be an issue at all. Teams that prefer to send their backs out and play with as many bodies in the route concept as possible will be able to live with Hall's pass-pro worries just fine. Even then, Hall has the frame and want-to in order to develop a good pass-protection baseline down the road. He just needs to slow down and play more in control, which can hopefully be taught.

Hall will be in the running to be the first back off the board. In this class, that may only mean he goes in the top of the second round, but that is exactly where a player of his caliber should go. While Hall is not a special running back, his athletic profile, patient running style, and pass-catching chops will be enough to make him a starting running back right away with Pro Bowl potential down the line.


1 comment, Last at 09 Mar 2022, 10:48am

#1 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 09, 2022 - 10:48am

As much as I want KW3 to be, Hall has been better for longer. 

Points: 0

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