It’s tough to put too much weight into rookie minicamp seeing as we are several checkpoints away from finalizing the roster. However, the Las Vegas Raiders made one transaction that caught my eye, cutting Virginia Tech’s Tré Turner and keeping Ball State’s Justin Hall.
Both wideouts, Turner had reportedly received $40,000 guaranteed from the Raiders while Hall didn’t get any guarantees. Logically, I’d assume that means the latter significantly outperformed the former during minicamp and that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise after looking at Hall’s resume.
He left Muncie, Indiana as the school’s leader in career receptions and receiving yards with 318 catches for 3,385 yards and 18 receiving touchdowns. On the ground, he added 865 yards and 10 scores on 122 carries, all of which was good enough for five All-MAC selections – two first-team honors, two-second team and one third.
As great as those numbers and accolades are, they don’t do the Cardinal’s game justice and it’s easy to see why Las Vegas’ new head coach Josh McDaniels likes him on film.
Hall was a YAC monster at Ball State, as that’s where 75.5 percent or 506 of his yards came from in 2020 and 63.7 percent and 386 yards in 2021, and we see an example of how that happened on this first clip.
Ball State runs an RPO which is perfect against Western Michigan’s defense since the field corner (top of the screen) is playing off and the linebacker lined up over the slot receiver crashes inside hard to play the run. That leaves Hall with plenty of space to operate which is a nightmare for defenders trying to tackle in open space.
After the catch, he does a good job kicking it into second gear to throw off the safety’s (No. 13) angle and force an arm tackle. He stays on balance after contact and has the speed to break the pursuing linebacker’s angle as well and doesn’t get satisfied by just running out of bounds and taking the 15- to 20-yard gain. Instead, Hall has the presence of mind to cut it back and force another arm tackle.
To cap things off, he shows a great finishing mentality to fight for every yard by diving and setting up a goal-to-go scenario.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Josh McDaniels drooled a little bit when he watched this play on film. One of the benefits of having a wide receiver who’s really good after the catch is offensive coordinators can open up the playbook and find ways to get them involved in the running game, al la Deebo Samuel.
Hall obviously has a while to go to reach Samuel’s level, but this rep is an encouraging one to see what he can do with the ball in his hands.
On the reverse, he stays behind the quarterback and works off of the quarterback’s block to get to the outside. Hall then puts a nice move on the safety and makes the safety miss. After coming to balance by about his second step after the arm tackle, it’s an easy first down and the Cardinal can coast into a 20-yard run.
That type of versatility can go a long way to making the team an undrafted free agent.
For a wide receiver, Hall has elite contact balance, and this clip might be the best example of that.
He motions into a stack with the other receiver to help set up this screen and that other receiver does a great job of sealing the linebacker so Hall has an outside lane. Then we see another excellent cut to force an arm tackle, but this time the safety is right there to make contact shortly after the corner misses. However, the Raiders’ rookie manages to stay on his feet, gather himself and go pick up the first down.
To top it all off, he shows another great cut to force one more missed tackle and tack on five more yards. It’s easy to see how Hall led MAC wide receivers in missed tackles forced by 10 two years ago.
We’ve hammered home the point that Hall can make defenders miss after the catch and the play above shows off his vision with the ball in his hands.
Ball State essentially runs a screen with Hall running a flat route and the two other receivers on the trips side blocking without even running routes. Hall does an excellent job of reading his teammates’ blocks and splitting them, with the inside receiver positioned on the outside of the defender – granted, not holding very much ground – and the outside receiver positioned inside on the corner. Then, it’s more of what we’ve already seen.
He kicks it into second gear and makes the safety miss by forcing another arm tackle, but Hall isn’t done just yet. He sees nothing but green turf to his right and cuts back to the middle of the field, ruining all the pursuing Western Michigan Broncos’ angles and putting six points on the board.
That’s an impressive combination of speed and vision.
Down-field routes weren’t a massive part of Hall’s game in college, with only seven catches 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage over the last two seasons combined. But we can see an example of how the Raiders could potentially use him to lull defenses to sleep and hit a big play through the air with a double move.
Hall runs a short out or flat route again and does a great job of selling the initial route with his eyes and shoulders by looking back at the quarterback. That, plus Ball State’s tendency to target him near the line of scrimmage, gets the defensive back to come downhill and take a flatter angle. The offense is playing on the defender’s instincts as his coaching point is probably to click and close quickly on Hall to limit the yards after the catch.
However, Hall turns it up the field, kicks in that second gear again and beats the defensive back up the field. And it wouldn’t be a Justin Hall highlight if he didn’t break at least one tackle before scoring a touchdown.
Our last clip isn’t exactly a “highlight play” but it is another example of how nuanced Hall is with the ball in his hands.
He catches this bubble screen and sees the nickel (No. 0) overplay the outside, so he knows the inside lane is open with the wide corner (No. 21) being responsible for the boundary, putting two defenders in one area. To hold that corner and create even more space to the inside, the Cardinal stems toward the sideline with his first few steps and cuts it back to get up the field.
Since this is an RPO, the field safety (No. 41) must honor the run fake and flow to the screen, forcing him to stop his feet to gather right before contact. Hall takes advantage of this by keeping his feet moving through contact and using his natural leverage to fall forward and pick up the first down on 2nd and seven.
It’s plays like this that make me think the undrafted free agent might have a future as a third-down back as well as a slot receiver.