Breece Hall has always had talent as a runner. It was evident early on in high school when his varsity coach Steve Martin first saw him as a sophomore running back. Martin recalled “We knew Breece was going to be very special, but we knew he needed to do some of the intangible things. When he was a sophomore, he had the luxury of having three guys that had been in the program and had had a lot of success in it.”
“To be honest with you, from a talent standpoint, Breece should have been the running starting back as a sophomore. He just wasn’t doing the intangible stuff. It wasn’t that we didn’t need him, it was that he wasn’t doing the little things to be out there all the time,” Martin said
As a result of not being able to do those intangible things, Breece was relegated to the JV squad that sophomore year. Hall said, “That JV season was pretty fun. We averaged probably 70 points a game. We ran the ball a lot so I think I averaged five touchdowns or something like that. It was unfair, but it was really fun at the same time.”
Breece knew he deserved to be the varsity starting running back, but his inability to be an all around back held him back, and it bothered him. “Not playing on Fridays sucked but it was a real learning and humbling experience,” he said.
After the season coach Martin sat him down and told him exactly what he thought. “He said Breece, I think you could be one of the best backs to ever come out of Wichita and the state of Kansas if you would put your mind to it and get better at the little stuff. I think he took that to heart and he ran with it. He ran for over 2,200 yards as a junior and another 2,000 yards as a senior again,” Martin said.
That is when Iowa State began to see the talent that was right on their back door. Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said, “As soon as I saw film of Hall I was really impressed with it early on. We decided to offer him the scholarship. The recruitment from there on was an enjoyable process, to be honest. Great family. Great mom. Great stepdad. Great sister. On top of that, just a tremendous high school football program.”
Coach Campbell noticed right away the similarities Hall had with a special talent he coached at Toledo in David Montgomery. It took time for Hall to find his way at Iowa State, but once he did he was off to the races. His high school coach Steve Martin knew what type of special kid he had in Wichita, “The kid cares so much about people that this town understands what kind of great kid came out of this city.”
Hall started slow at Iowa State with single caries in 2 of his first 4 games. Entering Week 5 in 2019 Breece had a grand total of 18 carries for 84 scoreless yards. Breece remembers that’s when coach Campbell called him into his office to discuss his future. Campbell said, “Breece this is going to be the week that either we redshirt you or you’re just going to get in the game and go off.”
“So once Saturday came I got my shot,” Hall recalled. That game was the beginning as Hall exploded for 132 yards rushing with 3 TDs and a reception.
It didn’t take long for Breece to get in the rhythm of the offense. “I got comfortable after about two drives. So I really knew what was going on, what was happening. I knew where my runs would be open at, what blitzes were coming,” Breece said.
Brece finished his freshman campaign with nearly 900 yards on 186 carries and 9 TDs. He added 23 receptions for 252 yards an another TD in the air.
Yet Breece was not satisfied with his accomplishments like many other players. He didn’t take his achievements lightly and wanted more. He wanted to build on what he had done rather than content with his on field actions. As the cousin of former 49er great Roger Craig he demanded nothing less than excellence. He worked in the offseason and his coach took notice.
“His off the field habits this winter and really the shape that he’s come back in and really the mentality that he’s approached quite honestly this summer you can tell he’s driven to take the next step,” Campbell explained.
Playing for Iowa State was a detriment to receiving the accolades Breece should have gotten.
His coach Matt Campbell was more than impressed by a superior young man, “Breece is a really really gifted athlete, maybe one of the most gifted true running backs that I’ve had the opportunity to be around.”
Hall himself was more appreciative of the coach, school and community he had grown to love. “Playing for Iowa State has been nothing short of a gift. The last three years, this team has defined five-star culture and I could not be more grateful to be a part of that. I will never forget the roar of the crowd in Jack Trice Stadium. I am honored to be a Cyclone and will always be a Cyclone,” Hall said.
That is not to say that Hall is going to sit on his accomplishments. He is a driven young man who understands hard work and the benefits of that work. He doesn’t want to be a good running back. He wants to dominate. As Hall puts it, “People think being ranked in the top 10 running backs is cool and all that but for me I want to be number 1. I want to be the best I want to be a top guy.”
So let’s see what drove Joe Douglas to trade up in the 2nd round.
Let’s take a look at Breece Hall who is a 5’ 11 1/4” 217 lb RB.
Breece Hall is a 3 down back with excellent rushing ability, soft hands, and the ability to be a solid blocker in pass pro. He had almost 4,000 career yards rushing with an offensive line that was average at best. He is a one cut runner who has great vision to find the crease in the defense and exploit it. He has near perfect size to be a bell cow type back with strong legs that can break tackles. Hall broke 74 tackles in 2021 which was 7th in the nation. He is a straight ahead runner, not a lot of dancing, but he has some wiggle. He can make a defender miss in the hole, plus a jump cut that he should use more often. He had a 86.8 Elusiveness rating from PFF. He played in the pistol and one back settings. He has very good hands, 37 receptions on 41 targets 310 yards 1 drop in 2021. He can run out and wheel routes as well as a safety valve receiver in the flat. He uses a wide base in pass protection with hands up and ready to assist in the blocking challenge against larger opponents. He has a good burst (not great) but still had 5 TDs of over 75 yards in 2021. He is not a bruising back, but he is able to always get a few extra yards through contact and always seems to fall forward for more. He is a calm, patient runner who will wait and let his blocker make their blocks before he goes.
His 4.39/40 speed is more of a build up speed as he works through a defense, but he can explode once he sees daylight with a one cut burst that takes defenders by surprise and has them chasing with zero chance of catching him. He is a wide zone type runner who can excel in the zone scheme he saw regularly in college. He also has the ability to play in any other scheme and understands when to look for creases and when to power through to get the most he can in a limited situation.
The two things he never does is dance when he can explode or move backward to make extra yards. He is a straight forward, downhill runner with make you miss moves. He has superior vision in the hole and power to make the extra yard you need to score or keeps a drive going. He is a team player who will do what it takes to win. He can become an excellent blocker in pass protection with coaching. He rarely had the chance to block for his QB because the offense was predicated on his rushing ability, and the vast majority of pass plays were play action passes that had Hall moving away from the pocket in play fake fashion.
Let’s look at some tape, a lot of tape, to give you an idea who Breece Hall is.
This first play is a zone concept play with a jet sweep fake then pulling guard and tackle form the backside. Hall is geared to look for the cutback lane that doesn’t exist on this play, but he works his reads then continues outside to read the blocking.
This is a typical play where everyone does their job except one player (#8 WR Xavier Hutchinson) who somehow at 6’ 3” 210 lbs can’t block a diminutive outside corner. The cutback lane was there for Hall to explode through, but the block was never made so he had to continue down the line waiting for the block that may spring him. Sadly that block never came, but Hall got the most out of what was blocked.
This next clip shows vision. Hall has a great feel for as a runner. It’s a faux wide zone run to the right, but is really an A gap run with a wham block from the TE (that never happens) to open the hole as the defense flows right.
The whole point of this is to have the defense chase the reads of the defensive lineman who follow the blocks moving right. This wham block play is similar to a trap block where you make the defense believe the play is going one way but really back the opposite way. You leave the backside end free to chase the play, and when he thinks he can get into position to make the tackle he gets pummeled by a TE or pulling guard.
This play did not work as planned at all. With backside pressure they had no idea would be there and a safety was looking to blitz that side on the play. As it turns out the Cyclones get enough interference at the point of attack to let Hall break the line and then explode for a huge game down the sideline.
On the next play it’s 3rd an 1 with 11 defenders within 7 yards of the snap. The offense is in tight in a two back set with 3 TEs. This will show you the vision, power, and determination of Breece Hall.
This is a two back set with a full back who in the play really does nothing. This is a play that the QB should have switched to the opposite side with 3 defenders over the left offensive tackle. The problem is your tackle can handle only one of them, and the hole the offense is trying to make if filled up quickly. Hall is looking for the cutback lane, but when none is there he keeps working to the outside. He is able to break outside, albeit with a defender hanging on to him. He is able to pull his tackler along for 4 yards until help arrives, and Hall is tackled. Hall is a speed guy, but he has some power to get the tough yard also.
There are two requirements a team needs from a zone running back. They are speed and vision. The vision is needed so you can see holes before they develop, You read blocks because once the hole opens it closes just as quick. You need to be heading that way before it opens to be effective. When I say speed I really mean explosion. When that hole opens you need a back who can stick his foot in the ground and rocket through that hole because like I said the hole doesn’t last long.
This play is a good example of just that type of trait you need.
You can see at the snap every offensive lineman immediately moves in unison to their right. The left guard wisely picks up the ILB who is on a run blitz; by doing so the ILB misses his run fit which opens a small hole in the line which Hall instantly reads. The center is being pushed back into the offensive backfield causing a cog. Also watch Hall’s head as he receives the ball. He is reading the LOLB to that side of the offense and can see he is holding the edge, not allowing anyone around him. Seeing this Hall knows he needs to cut back inside before he reaches the edge, or he will eventually run out of room and be dropped for a loss. He next quickly sees the opening in the line caused by the blitzing ILB.
On those two reads, the edge player and the missed run fit, Hall is seeing as he is handed the ball. Everything is done in a split second; that’s the vision part. Next is the explosion through the hole so once Hall can sidestep the center to his right he sticks his right foot in the ground and shoots though the opening. On the way he makes the safety miss the tackle and is finally gang tackled by backside player but not until after a 14 yard gain.
When I mention a “run fit” it is a special term used for defensive players on rushing plays. Each player has a specific task on the 1st and 2nd level of the defense. It is particularly useful against zone blocking teams and where you see it most. First of course each player on the defense has to see that the play is a rushing play and not some fake bootleg pass play. It is much harder than you expect since the offensive team is trying to make you believe it’s a running play. That is why you see Jimmy Garoppolo roll back unencumbered by a rush and throw to a wide open George Kittle for a big play. You probably ask yourself why is Garoppolo so free to loft a pass to a wide open guy. Why doesn’t the defense expect that? The reason is the need to have run fits or an offense will kill you with the run.
The term run fit is a specific term; each player on the first two levels of the defense have a defined plan. Each has a gap responsibility so the nose tackle has the A gap to the the side of the run the RILB, the A to the backside of the run ,the LILB the inside B gap, and the DE has the outside of the B gap and the OLB has edge contain.
When I use the term “run fit” it means exactly that. So if you have the A gap you must put your right shoulder pad inside that gap to the outside of the offensive lineman’s right shoulder pad. You don’t just be passive and read the play. You have to “fit” your pads into that hole. By doing so you will become either the tackler (you make the tackle) or the “spiller” which means you have successfully blocked your gap, and the RB has to continue to flow down the line. If everyone successfully becomes a spiller the LOLB will probably make a tackle for a loss. This devotion to a cause is the reason Jimmy Garoppolo is so alone when he bootlegs off the play fake. The better you can run the wide zone scheme, the better your passing game will be off of it because the defense has to be so precise to stop the wide zone runs. When players have to “fit” inside gaps they can’t chase Garoppolo.
As you can see here the RILB never made it to the right shoulder of the A gap to his side of the play. He cut it short so when the guard turns to block him it left the gaping hole to which Hall cuts off his butt and into the secondary. When Hall reads the blocking he sees the missed run fit in the backside A gap so he explodes in that direction for the big gain.
Side Note #2
That run showed you vision from the backfield to see everything around him, read the blocks and find the right hole to make a big gain. There are other types of vision as well. You have the #1) backfield vision and #2) vision in the hole to find the spaces in the defense at the second level to avoid 2nd level defenders and make a nice gain. Then there is #3) open field vision which is best shown by kickoff and punt returners to find their way through a maze of defenders in the open field. Each skill is an ability unique to its own definition. Also there are different levels of ability to each skill. Some players are more proficient at a certain ability of vision than others just like most people understand math equations, but there are different levels of understanding those equations. Some people have trouble balancing a checkbook while others are astrophysicists. The same is true of vision in the NFL. There are few Billy “white shoes” Johnsons and a lot of “buttfumble” Mark Sanchez’s
Hall is not a skilled route runner by any means. He can run some rudimentary routes like a wheel or flat route and various check downs. That is not to say he lacks skills in that area. While he doesn’t have a large route tree he has some very nice skills in what he does do. This next play is late in the half with Iowa State in their own zone. The defense is dropping back deep to not allow the big pass play over the top. Hall takes advantage of that.
This is basically a little 5 yard dig route that Hall uses in front of the retreating linebackers. He is wise to make sure he doesn’t run the route too deep, or he would essentially cover himself with the LILB. Instead he cuts it short then creates momentum going away from the LILB to create space. Once he get the pass he easily speeds away showing good (not great) open field vision with the intelligence to get out of bounds which saves a time out. It’s a great positive 20 yard gain to start the drive and puts the defense on its heels.
A great running back doesn’t need to be a great receiver. Just be smart, get open and CATCH the ball. Here is a perfect example of just that as Hall quickly gets out in the open.
There is nothing special about this play other than Hall get out in space quickly and presents a big target while looking back for the ball right away. The QB will be hesitant to throw a ball if the RB is not looking back. As it is Hall gets out so quickly that the ILB who is slow the read the play has no shot of making it back into the play, and a simple step back is all that is needed to avoid the tackle and walk into the end zone.
This next play is an off tackle run to the left with motion back to the right to hold the linebackers. The motion also fooled the camera operator too.
This is a well executed pay with sound blocking except for the TE (#88) who keeps this from being a TD. There is no reading on this play because it is set up to run through the B gap, and the hole is big enough for a dump truck to make it through. The TE #88 waits for the safety to make a move instead of just getting on him and making a block. Hall would have cut off his butt no matter which side it was. He probably scores with his speed. This is the type of explosive play Hall can give you on a simple off tackle play if the play is well blocked as we hope the improvements to the O-line will give the Jets.
So Hall has the speed and the vision, but what about power? Let’s look at that on this next play. Now we don’t expect Hall to have power like a fullback or Sam “Bam” Cunningham but some power can be very useful.
This is another play that is set up very well except for the two whiffed blocks right at the point of attack. We have #88 again (TE Charlie Kolar) getting abused by the OLB, and the lead blocker #11 (TE Chase Allen) does little more than get in the way. So Hall does what he is supposed to do, he follows his lead blocker into the hole then cut off his block. When there is no block he just runs over his tackler since he has no room to avoid him. Including the added push he gets from his teammates, Hall gets another 8 yards through determination and enough power to be effective.
I mentioned speed and vision before. This is a chance to see Hall’s open field vision. You often don’t get enough chances to see this from a between the tackles runner but here it is.
This is not unlike a kick return in that once you break the initial wall of defenders with speed you must traverse the remaining players while reading their momentum in an effort to use it against them. It’s not as easy as it looks since you are running full speed with a helmet on that restricts you vision but Hall does a nice job here.
Okay so we did speed, vision and power. Now what about elusiveness? We have already seen Hall make players miss in the hole so how about in the open field against a variety of defenders? So here we go.
So Hall makes a player miss in the hole…again. Then there is a missed tackle on the spin move, a missed tackle and on the jump cut. Then two players reach out then run into each other taking them out of the play. In the end we have about 5 missed tackles in a confined space until finally Hall runs out of room and is taken out of bounds. Yeah he has some decent elusiveness.
What is even more special about Hall;’s ability to force missed tackles (he forced 74 missed tackles last year in 12 games) is he never backtracks. He is a straight ahead runner. Never does he give ground to make ground. He is always moving forward. If he loses yards it’s because of poor blocking of which he saw a lot in 2021. He was the offense at Iowa State last year, and nearly every pass play was run off play action passes as Hall was watched by every defender on the defense.
Vision we talked about, the vision to see the blocking and know where to hole is going to open. Here is a clear example of this with Hall at the goal line looking to score from the 2 yard line.
You see Brock Purdy (the QB) motion Hall into the i-back position from the pistol. Once Hall is given the ball and takes a step the line of scrimmage looks like a mosh pit of bodies with no discernible hole to be found to us. Yet Hall can see the angles of the blocks from behind, chooses the right lane, then scores standing up after barely being touched. This is that backfield vision I was describing. It’s beautiful to see in action. Nice Job.
This next clip is Hall making himself available for his QB. He is just an outlet receiver on the play; nothing more than a #4 or #5 receiver. Yet he doesn’t treat it that way. He doesn’t saunter out of the backfield. He sees the pressure and makes himself available by being as far away as he can from his QB.
Of course he makes the first man miss then splits two defenders. He is pulled down as an additional defender comes to seal the tackle. Yet he is able to make a 10 yard gain out of near nothing. Also you see the last lean forward as he is being tackled, always moving forward, and the last gasp dive gains him another 2 or 3 yards.
This next play is similar to another off tackle play but just with better blocking. He makes the first man miss again. It’s amazing how many times he make the first man miss or breaks a tackle. That is great contact balance with the proper lean to keep forward momentum while barely breaking stride.
Last year Hall gained an additional 713 yards after contact which accounted for 48.5% of his yards on the year. Considering he had 253 attempts and on average a player gets contacted after 2.3 yards, Hall gained the majority of his yards on his own. Hall has definite bell cow back ability with his great balance, speed and vision. He had the most carries (rushing and receiving) 591 of any back in college football. His 532 carries were 112 more than any other back the last two years. He also was very productive over that time with 46 total TDs which also is the most in the 2 year period.
We have talked about open field vision and backfield vision, but here is an example of some vision in the hole. It’s the ability to see prospective tacklers then avoid them in order to get the most out of the run. This play is a wide zone run that just opens up on the backside of the play as the defense overcompensates to the outside.
Finding the hole here is not the problem. but getting the most out of the run takes vision and speed. You see that Hall immediately makes the backside ILB miss the tackle (He doesn’t get a finger on him.) then he is off to the races. He outruns half the team until he runs out of room a few yards short of the goal line.
Here is the make you miss ability you want in a feature back and the speed to make a team pay once you do so. This again is that same off tackle play we have seen a few times. The only difference is that Hall is able to make the OLB miss in the hole then makes the safety look silly as he fakes outside and cuts back inside to outrun the defense for a TD. He didn’t run out of room on this play.
This is about as well blocked a play as Iowa State had all year, and still Hall had to make two men miss to gain the TD. That is not normal for a running back. You need exceptional skill to do so and is why the Jets traded up to take a RB in the 2nd round.
Joe Douglas realized that he offense can’t be completely dependent on a 2nd year QB making a huge leap. He fixed the offensive line as best he could then beefed up the run game with special talents to take the heat off Zach Wilson. If the Jets can have a more balanced offense they have a better chance of winning and developing Zach Wilson at the same time.
The ability to have backfield vision is key but none more so than on a 3rd and 1 play. You know the defense will be in the gaps and/or blitzing ILB so the ability to read the line then find the hole is vital.
This is the 3rd and 1 play that is being run from the pistol. The play is to cross the formation to the left side of the offense, but the line is stymied at the point of attack. You can see Hall press the hole. Then when no hole forms he uses a jump cut back to the left just as the hole opens for a 3 yard gain and a first down. There was no panic. He kept his head up, watched the blocking then found the right space to make the first down.
There is a time to read the blocking and read the play. Then there is a time when the hole forms right away, and can you make it through the hole before the defense closes it. This is one of those instances.
This is another play where Hall gets through the hole with speed, and in this case he breaks two tackles to get into the end zone. You have seen Hall work in a zone based offense, and this is more of a traditional offense. Since the Jets use both types of rushing attacks, Hall seems to be a great fit in their offensive scheme.
His coach Matt Campbell ( who I have huge respect for) said, “Breece is maybe one of the most gifted, true running backs that I’ve had the opportunity to be around. He’s got very similar qualities, as far as skills, to David Montgomery and Kareem Hunt.”
Athletically Hall scores in the 90 percentile or higher in speed, vertical, and broad jump, which test explosiveness. He also has large hands and good length (32”) which helps in receiving. Hall caught 36 of 37 catchable passes in 2021 so you are getting a truly viable receiver with the ability to do special things in space.
Breece Hall was clearly my #1 running back in the 2021 NFL Draft. I had no idea that Joe Douglas would value Hall so much, but I am delighted he did so. Hall will be a great addition to the offense. He gives the Jets another player who can make splash plays and doing so without needing Zach Wilson to make a play. The more pressure you take off Zach Wilson the faster he will develop in my opinion. Breece Hall gives the Jets that type of ability, he should be a mainstay in the offense (barring injury) for the next 6 or 7 years if the Jets choose to keep him. The one two punch of Hall and Carter will give defenses a lot more to worry about combined with the addition of Garrett Wilson.
Heck, is the Jets offense going to be scary for defenses?
I certainly hope so.