MOBILE, Ala. — There are five defensive backs at this year’s Senior Bowl from the FCS ranks. And aside from stellar college careers, they share one common trait: They’re all 6’0” or taller.
Northern Iowa’s Deiondre’ Hall measured in Tuesday at 6’1” and change, right on par with Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew and Samford’s James Bradberry (both 6’1”), and just on top of Southeast Louisiana’s Harlan Miller and William & Mary’s DeAndre Houston-Carson (both 6’0”).
But none of those players elicited the response Hall did from the huddled masses of scouts, coaches, GMs and journalists as weigh-in results were announced at the Mobile Convention Center. It wasn’t Hall’s height or weight (192) that had folks buzzing. Rather, it was his arm length (34 3/4”) and wingspan (a staggering 82 3/8”).
Looking for a tangible example of what NFL teams want in their cornerbacks? There it is. The height to get after balls in the air plus the arms to redirect receivers off the line.
“My length is a huge part of my game,” Hall said later during media night. “At Northern Iowa we played a lot of press man, so that transition to the NFL ... I wouldn't be surprised if I am taken somewhere to play press man. I use my length. That’s one of my main strengths. At the point of attack, being able to be two to three yards away from a receiver and keep my hands on him is huge.”
Hall will be tested throughout the week, as he was Tuesday by the North’s talented group of receivers: Braxton Miller, Jordan Payton, Leonte Carroo, Chris Moore, Aaron Burbridge and Tajae Sharpe. Even before he took the field, though, Hall was very much in the spotlight.
“Even if he winds up with like a fourth-round grade, someone will take him a round or two higher because of his size,” a scout told me. “Everyone wants to find the next Richard Sherman.”
It’s easy to forget now that Sherman actually began his Stanford career as a wide receiver, before switching to cornerback for his final two years. Hall played receiver in high school and was recruited as a safety; he even saw time at linebacker for Northern Iowa before settling in as a standout CB.
He has found a home there. Hall picked off six passes this past season, returning two for touchdowns, and had five INTs (with one score) in 2014.
“I see myself as a ballhawk,” Hall said, explaining again that his length pays off because “it distracts [receivers’] routes, so when that messes up the quarterback’s timing ... and the ball’s coming out you can go get it.”
Hall’s background as a safety, as well as his natural playmaking ability and range, potentially could lead him back to that position in the NFL. He did not see any time there on Tuesday, but did say that he expects the Cowboys’ staff (which is running the North team) to give him a few looks there.
It’s less likely that he’ll see time as a returner but that’s on the table, too. Hall occasionally fielded kicks for the Panthers, averaging 22.5 yards on four kick returns this year and topping 200 return yards back in 2013.
But first and foremost will be finding a spot for him on the defensive depth chart. His size makes it almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll hear his name called in the early-to-mid rounds, and his imposing FCS counterparts could join him.
A few more notes on Day 1:
• Braxton Miller made himself some money, or at least he will by following up Tuesday's effort with more of the same on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Everyone knew the Ohio State QB-turned-receiver possessed dazzling athleticism, but it’s even more evident when it stands out—as it did, repeatedly—against this level of competition.
Miller’s footwork can be a little haphazard, but he still manages to create space for himself using his quickness, and he appears perfectly comfortable catching the ball. His best grab Tuesday may have been a sliding effort along the sideline, as he worked his way back to the ball.
• The Carson Wentz hype isn't going anywhere. The North Dakota State star was easily the best quarterback on Day One, showing no hesitation throwing against his team's defensive backs. The relative struggles of his QB teammates (Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Jeff Driskel) only served to emphasize Wentz’s performance.
“I think there’s obviously a lot of doubt coming from the FCS level and I just want to address that right away,” Wentz said Monday, and “prove that I can play at a high level, play at a fast level, compete with these guys and really excel. I have the mental and physical abilities to play at this level and I’m really excited to prove it.”
Wentz wasn't perfect—I saw him short-hop at least one easy out route—but it was a good start nonetheless.
• The setup of a week like this favors defensive linemen over offensive linemen, the latter of which are trying to assimilate in short order to a new blocking scheme. Still, early indications serve as further proof that this will be a good, potentially great, D-line draft class. Among the best there Tuesday: Eastern Kentucky (and former Ohio State) pass-rusher Noah Spence; Alabama’s Jarran Reed; powerful 340-pound Clemson DT D.J. Reader; and Illinois’ Jihad Ward, who sure looked a lot lighter than his weigh-in 296 pounds while playing DE in a 4-3 set.
Reader had one of the most dominant single moments of the day, burying Missouri offensive lineman Connor McGovern in a one-on-one drill. Unfortunately, McGovern limped off the field shortly thereafter with an apparent leg injury.
• As expected, there was ample movement among the O-line pieces. Impressive Kansas State G/T Cody Whitehair even took some snaps at center, perhaps adding another notch to his résumé.
“I’m kind of naturally made for [guard],” Whitehair said. “I'm maybe not quite long enough to play tackle.
“My parents were listening to the feedback of today’s stuff and they called me and said, ‘We heard you were out there snapping the ball today.’ It was something that I worked on a little bit. I just kind of wanted to add another level to my versatility.”
• Keep an eye on Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. He checked in a couple inches shy of his listed height (5’11” officially Tuesday vs. 6’1” heading into the week), but more than made up for it with a strong day of practice. Mitchell victimized former SEC rival Jalen Mills (LSU) on multiple occasions, once beating him up the sideline for a deep ball.
• Another name to remember moving forward this week: Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez. He was very active plugging gaps against the run and could emerge as a surprise star of Senior Bowl 2016.