After starting in 2004 and 2005, Michigan Wolverines cornerback Leon Hall began the 2006 season on many "players to watch" list. Throughout the season, Hall established himself as one of the best defensive back prospects in the nation and a potential top-10 pick in the 2007 NFL draft - then came along Ohio State and the University of Southern California.
Where Michigan had only allowed an average of 12.1 points per game before that point, they were lit up for 74 points, 707 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns in their final two contests. Hall showed some weakness covering highly talented wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio State) and Dwayne Jarrett (Southern California). Subsequently, Hall's stock took a moderate hit, and he looking more like a mid-to-late first-round selection.
Hall at 2006 at Michigan
Hall was a standout defensive player while at Michigan. In 2006, he was consensus All-American as well as a finalist for both the Jim Thorpe (top defensive back) and Bronko Nagurski (top defensive player) Awards. In addition, he was named to the coaches and media All-Big Ten first team and was the winner of the Charles Woodson Award for top Michigan defensive back.
In 2006, Hall finished fourth on the team in tackles and first in interceptions (three). Above all, however, Hall made his mark by being in the right position to break up passes. He accounted for 18 broken passes last season, which was 12 more than the next player, and tied a school record for most in a season. This placed Hall first in the Big Ten Conference and fifth nationally in that category. His career total for pass breakups stands at 43, which is a school record.
Hall size of 5-foot-11, 193 pounds allows him to be physical with receivers and competitive in jump-ball situations. His presence on the field influenced opponent's game plans in college as he significantly stood out among other defensive backs on the team.
Since he played in 50 games as a defensive back (37 as a starter), he has had time to learn the position well, gaining valuable experience in anticipating offensive planning.
Combining that with his natural instincts for the position is why he was so often able to be in the right place at the right time to defend passes. Hall has decent speed and runs smoothly, rarely missing a beat in coverage routes. He was consistent during most of the season as Michigan rolled through the second half of their season versus weaker opponents.
Although Hall has decent speed, he doesn't have the breakaway speed needed to be considered an elite cornerback. In order to stay with the faster receivers (like Ginn), Hall would have to be continually physical and stick close at all times. Although his speed is his only glaring weakness, it is such a coveted attribute in the NFL that it raised significant hesitation regarding Hall's value in the wake of his less-than-impressive performance versus more talented and faster offenses.
Does Hall have enough breakaway speed worthy of a high pick? Will he have a tendency to make mental mistakes when he's needed most, or did he simply just have a couple of bad games? The losses to Ohio State and USC also couldn't come at a worse time, because Hall's only opportunity to re-establish his dominance on the field was during the 2007 Senior Bowl. He wasn't able to significantly help his cause there.
Where at one point in time Hall may have separated himself from the other cornerbacks in the draft, he now sits in a pool of about seven cornerbacks where one doesn't stand very far out from any of the others. Among his closer cornerback competition is Darrelle Revis (Pittsburgh), Aaron Ross (Texas), and Daymeion Hughes (California).
Those three along with Hall are commonly projected to be selected within about 10 picks of each other, and they have similar physical talents. The disparity of opinion as to their rank, combined with the fact that there are enough decent cornerbacks to last through the first round and a half of the draft, causes all of their stock to slightly drop making it unlikely any of them will go before the 15th pick.
Hall is projected to go around the 18th pick and there are several teams that could rationally use a first-round selection on a cornerback. The earliest spot Hall could likely go to is to the Buffalo Bills at No. 12, and that would only be if the Bills are unable to retain free-agent cornerback Nate Clements.
A more probable scenario is for Hall to go at No. 15 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After that, there are a slew of teams he could go to including the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 18, Tennessee Titans at No. 19, New York Giants at No. 20, Denver Broncos at No. 21, Dallas Cowboys at No. 22, Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23 - you get the picture.
NFL free agency still has a role to play as to when Hall will go. Some of those teams mentioned will take advantage of a few available free-agent veterans instead of depending on the draft to improve their cornerback talent. Hall could also change his draft position (for better or worse) in the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine for which he holds an invitation.
The event that could most influence his draft position is the 40-yard run. It is highly unlikely that Hall will record a time under 4.4 seconds; he should end up closer to the 4.44-4.5 range.
Hall is an experienced cornerback and intuitively plays the position well. He has the best chance of any corner in the draft this year to be a starter on an NFL team on the first week of September. Although speed is coveted, it is not the only skill necessary to play the position, and Hall is solid in all other areas.
If he continues to develop his knowledge of the game and the position, Hall
could greatly influence opponent's offensive performance by taking away key
receivers and becoming an interception threat. Speed could hold him back from
becoming an elite NFL cornerback, but he is a good gamble for any team and should
have a fine NFL career.