The Raiders drafted defensive tackle PJ Hall with their second-round ( 57th overall ) selection in the 2018 NFL Draft surprising many taking the small-school player. Any player taken so early will come in with a certain level of expectation and the same can be said for Hall.
The Oakland coaching staff hoped he could develop into a formidable defensive lineman providing much needed interior pressure that has eluded the Raiders over the past several seasons. Based on early returns, the faith they had in Hall’s raw talent has yielded much more than they may have originally anticipated.
“Hall is an inside rusher. He’s a potential three-technique, outside shoulder of the guard, which is a critical part of this defense that we’re going to run here,” Gruden said during the draft. “With Paul Guenther, we like his production, we love his measurables. The only thing he isn’t is he’s not tall, but this man is extremely powerful. I believe he did 38 bench presses, 39” vertical. The man can run. We need an inside pass rusher, which I think I’ve said that since I’ve been here. Somebody that can disrupt running plays and penetrate, and this guy can do that, so we’re really excited to get him.”
Coming from a smaller college like Sam Houston State may have hurt his draft stock, but ultimately may have played a role in his versatility. Bigger programs will at times, have more quality players than they can get on the field and so will limit their player’s roles. Hall was the best player on Houston’s defensive line and they moved him around accordingly. That experience has already begun showing up on the field for the Raiders.
This is one of two sacks Hall should have had in the Raiders second victory over the Arizona Cardinals. What is noteworthy of this play is where he was lined up. They put him at the 4-technique, heads up on the tackle. His job was to take on a double team allowing the defensive end to twist in behind him. Hall is able to take on the double then utilize his sheer athleticism to get to the quarterback. If he had come under control and lowered his point of contact, this would have been an easy sack.
As defenses adjust to the spread offense, linemen will be asked to play further outside to combat all of the motions and outside runs. Having a 6’0″ and 310-pound wrecking ball who can line up at the center and offensive tackle will give Guenther a great mismatch to utilize.
These two plays should have ended in sacks but are also the perfect pair to highlight just how versatile Hall really is. Playing the 1-technique in an odd front couldn’t be any more opposite than playing the 4-technique in an even front yet once again Hall physically dominates his match up. He utilities a Bull/Snatch combination to beat the center but unfortunately was unable to secure the quarterback.
Hall would finish the game with two solo tackles with one being a tackle for loss. It’s pretty clear that those numbers had a chance to look better. He would have been the talk of the game if he had gotten the quarterback on the ground in his two opportunities. He showed up in more than just pass rushing which will undoubtedly have the coaching staff salivating at Hall’s potential.
Hall’s strength at the point of attack was on full display in this game as well. Here he was moved out to the 3-technique in an even, “over” front. Hall not only takes on the double team but is able to split it and make the tackle. There are plenty of role players in the NFL who may be great pass rushers that in turn get abused in the run. Or great run supporters who cannot generate pressure on third down. Hall is proving there is no situation he cannot play in or any position he cannot dominate. If he continues to improve from his early successes, he has the potential to be one of the best and most versatile defensive linemen in the NFL.
It was one great performance in a short rookie season but what a great performance it was. With the Raiders playoff aspirations (and guaranteed a losing record again) getting young guys playing time will be their focus. This wasted season may be a blessing next season with all the experience the coaching staff is getting their rookie class. A full offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program should have them hitting the ground running next spring. As bleak as the present appears, the future will be very bright if guys like PJ Hall continue to improve.