New York Jets’ defensive coordinator could not create a cornerback who is a better fit for his scheme than Virginia’s Bryce Hall.
New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has talked about his scheming versatility a lot. He broke down his own scheme saying “I have 42 words that add up to the 11 that trot out to the field. You guys that have studied me before, we’ll play 4-3 and 3-4 in the same game. 3-3, 3-2, 4-1, 4-2, bear, big on five down, big on six down, big on more linebackers, little on more DB’s. I have 42 packages of defense.”
He’s scheme versatile, but one thing has remained pretty consistent for Williams. He loves zone coverage and physical players. The only exception to that was his time in Cleveland where the Browns played a man heavy look with a single high safety.
Williams found success with his zone scheme last season despite poor cornerback play. The Jets rated 18th in the NFL in pass defense DVOA in 2019 despite their corner situation.
It seems likely that Williams will rely on a similar system in 2020. One reason to believe that’s the case is Jets’ general manager Joe Douglas adding Pierre Desir in free agency. Desir is noted for his strong instincts and zone coverage ability and his poor man coverage ability.
Despite the Desir signing the Jets are still incredibly thin at cornerback. They’re only other cornerbacks on the roster with playing experience are Arthur Maulet, Bless Austin, and Nate Hairston. They need to add to that, and with little cap space left it’ll likely come from the draft.
With that in mind, there’s one prospect who makes perfect sense, Bryce Hall. The University of Virginia product is a perfect fit for Williams’ system, and as a likely third-round selection makes all the sense in the world for the New York Jets.
Hall isn’t the tallest corner at just 6-foot-one, nor is he biggest at 202 pounds. What he does have is length with 32 and 1/4 inch arms that are comfortably above average for an NFL corner. He’s also an excellent athlete, though he didn’t get to show that off at the combine due to a serious left ankle injury.
Hall doesn’t use his length and athleticism the same way that most modern corners do. He’s not a press-man corner like so many elite cornerbacks, rather he’s an excellent zone corner.
Hall combines his length, athleticism, superior instincts in coverage, and a high football IQ to create the ideal zone corner. He’s rarely caught out of position and his instincts and speed make him a nightmare for quarterbacks to deal with.
Despite playing primarily zone coverage Hall led the NCAA in passes defended with 21 in 2018.
He’ll likely need time to adjust to the speed and size of NFL receivers, but zone coverage is a great way to make that adjustment easier. Since he wouldn’t be asked to cover players one on one he’d be given more freedom. So long as he knows his assignment he can play a role. That’s how Bless Austin excelled in his rookie year.
Over the past two seasons, Hall went up against three receivers who will be drafted in 2020. Bryan Edwards from South Carolina put up just three receptions for 37 yards. Antonio Gandy-Golden had just two receptions for 38 yards. Chase Claypool had six receptions for 30 yards. None of them had a TD.
When Hall is healthy and used properly he’s a shutdown corner in pass coverage. That’s not the only place he excels though.
Hall is a very physical tackler and he excels in the run game. He loves to get physical and it shows when teams run the ball. Hall is always looking to set the edge and make a play. A trait that Gregg Williams loves, just look at Arthur Maulet from 2019.
He’s a sure tackler thanks to his long arms and his aggression does lead to run stuffs, though it’s rare for him to get a tackle for loss. He also enjoys rushing the passer where he’s had four sacks over his college career.
Hall is a prototypical Gregg Williams corner in every way. He’s athletic, physical, smart, excels in zone, and isn’t afraid to hit somebody. Williams couldn’t build a more prototypical fit for his defense in a lab if he tried.
It should also be noted that Hall is an excellent leader. His leadership skills at Virginia were compared to Jets’ superstar safety Jamal Adams coming out of LSU. He was the heartbeat of that Virginia defense. When he went down the defense felt it, not just in pass coverage, but in their enthusiasm on the field. They didn’t look the same.
Strong vocal leaders both on the field and in the locker room are exactly what Joe Douglas is looking for to help change the team’s culture. That’s an extra layer of team fit that Hall brings to that table.
Coming into the 2019-20 season Hall was expected to be a first-round pick, and potentially the first corner drafted.
He has the potential to be a number one corner in the NFL. He’ll likely never be an elite lockdown guy, but he doesn’t need to be. He can slot in as a solid number one corner and still be a central piece on an elite defense.
At his best, he could look a lot like Chicago Bears’ cornerback Kyle Fuller. Nobody is going to call Fuller an elite corner in the NFL, but he’s a two-time Pro-Bowler and he was a first-team All-Pro in 2018.
At his worst Hall would likely be derailed by injury problems and never reach earn a role on an NFL defense. That’s the risk a team takes when they can’t look at a player’s medical history following a serious injury.
Hall was on pace to be a first-round pick before a serious ankle injury in the sixth game of the season knocked him out for the rest of the year.
Hall needed to have surgery on his ankle, and it still isn’t fully healed. He was unable to participate in the combine and likely wouldn’t have been 100% at a Pro Day had one been held.
The uncertainty that his injury has caused has tanked Hall’s draft stock. That makes it incredibly likely that he could be had with the 68th pick, the first of the Jets’ two third-round picks.
The allure of drafting a potential number one corner in the third round should be too much for the Jets to pass on. That’s especially true considering Hall’s fit in Gregg Williams’ defense and Joe Douglas’ culture.