clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Once again Raiders looked to draft day two for interior pass rush, but this prospect is polar opposite of previous attempts

New, comments
Oakland Raiders

For the fourth year in a row, the Raiders looked to day two of the draft to try and get some interior pass rush. But this time they went in a very different direction than the previous three attempts.

The man they targeted as the answer is PJ Hall out of Sam Houston State. Sure, they got Maurice Hurst as well, but they waited until the 5th round before taking a chance on him. With Hall, they had their sights on him early, trading down from pick 41 to 57 with him in mind as their first pick of day two.

In some regard, this could be viewed as a ‘her we go again’ type situation. Because every year in recent years, like clockwork, the Raiders have taken a defensive lineman on day two. If any of them had panned out before now, they wouldn’t need to keep doing it.

First it was Mario Edwards Jr in round two in 2015, then Jihad Ward in round two in 2016, and Eddie Vanderdoes in round three in 2017. Their most successful interior defensive lineman was Denico Autry who they signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014.

Those three guys all have something in common. They were all big time high school recruits who went to power five schools and underachieved. In their final seasons in college, Edwards had 3.0 sacks, Ward had 2.5, and Vanderdoes had 1.5. They range from 6-3 to 6-5 in height and were drafted as high as they were based partially on their perceived physical abilities despite their lack of production.

PJ Hall not only didn’t attend a power five school, he didn’t attend an FBS school. At just a hair over 6-foot tall, he’s not a physical specimen like the others and also unlike them, his college production was through the roof. He put up 42.0 sacks over four seasons and 86.5 tackles for loss. Essentially, he’s the polar opposite of the guys they drafted before.

That by no means is to suggest he is assured success. Putting up great numbers against lesser competition carries its own uncertainties. It’s simply a departure from the previous tactic of taking potential over production.

When a player puts up those kind of numbers, teams want to take a look at their physical abilities. If it were based just on production alone, James Cowser — who led the nation in sacks and whose FCS tackle for loss record (80) Hall broke -- wouldn’t have gone undrafted. And who, as it happens, was signed by the Raiders and has managed to hang around for a couple seasons.

The pre-draft process is where Hall’s stock as a legit draft candidate started to rise. After being snubbed for the combine, he lit up his pro day and impressed coaches with his rare movement skills for a 308-pound man barely over six foot. He ran a 4.76 40-yard dash -- easily besting any DT time from the combine —, had 36 reps on the bench press (good for third at the combine), and a 38-inch vertical — also easily besting any DT at the combine. That vert also explains how he managed to have an FCS record 14 blocked kicks.

As fate would have it, not long after securing Hall and Hurst in the draft, the Raiders dealt 2016 second round pick Jihad Ward to the Cowboys in exchange for wide receiver and return specialist Ryan Switzer.

Hurst comes with his heart concerns, which is the only reason he was still available in the 5th round. But if the Raiders are right and he’s fine, they got a top ten prospect in the fifth round. In Hall and Hurst, the Raiders feel like the may have finally upgraded their interior.

“To get those two guys, we felt they were the top two inside rushers in this draft,” said Jon Gruden during rookie minicamp.

They join an interior group that includes Edwards, Vanderdoes, recently re-signed nose tackle Justin Ellis, and 2017 7th round pick Treyvon Hester, who actually showed some promise his rookie season and could be a contributor as well.

Also see:

Takeaways from interview with PJ Hall’s college coach

PJ Hall scouting report, how he fits with Raiders