It would be accurate to say that Pittsburgh has been able to churn out some presentable NFL caliber running backs in recent years. LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in total rushing yards since entering the league in 2009 with 10,606. Despite injuries and other setbacks, Dion Lewis is one of 21 players with at least 2,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in total since his rookie year of 2011. James Conner’s 973 rushing yards for the Steelers in 2018 went some way towards filling the hole left by Le’Veon Bell. Quite a trio, to name but three.1
Given this track record, it is something of a surprise to me why so little attention is being paid to the Panthers leading rusher from 2018, Darrin Hall, especially in a somewhat underwhelming RB class. Let me try to remedy this here.
Hall played all four seasons of his college career with Pitt, playing in 45 games. He carried the ball 381 times in total, for 2,189 yards and 21 touchdowns. One hundred fifty-three of these carries came last season when he posted a career-high 1,144 yards with 10 touchdowns. The yardage was the sixth highest for Pitt since the start of the 2000 season. It was good for 31st in the nation, despite the fact that 80 players had more rushing attempts than Hall. Only seven players had a higher yards-per-attempt average than Hall’s 7.5. It set a new school record, beating the 6.6 achieved in 1975 by some bloke called Tony Dorsett (minimum of 1,000 yards).
To put this into perspective, here is a list of all Pitt RBs who have managed to average seven yards per attempt with at least 150 rushes in a season, all the while scoring at least 10 touchdowns since 2000:
- Darrin Hall
Considering the Panthers boasted McCoy and Lewis at one time or another, this is a noteworthy stat in my opinion.
Pass Catching Back? Not So Much
If we are looking for a glaring weakness in Hall’s production, it is as a pass catcher. Hall finished his collegiate career with just 38 receptions, and five of those came in a single game in 2017. Still, on those five grabs against Virginia Tech, he amassed 63 yards. Plus, throwing the ball is not something the Panthers were all that fond of doing during Hall’s time with the team. They only attempted 22.6 passes per game in 2018, and the thought of them allocating a large number of them to an RB is something of a fantasy.
Two is Company
Some people may have concerns regarding a player coming into the pros after a full four-year college career. Given the relatively short shelf life of the modern NFL back, teams may be reluctant to trust a back with a great deal of tread already on his tires. It is fortunate for Hall from this point of view that he doesn’t have four seasons of being a bell cow under his belt. Indeed, in the last two years, (since James Conner left) Hall has split carries with Qadree Ollison.2 Ollison’s 2017-2018 seasons brought him 284 carries for 1,611 yards (16 scores). Hall has three fewer attempts over this span, but his 281 totes saw him amass 1,772 yards, with 19 touchdowns.
Hall was not invited to the NFL scouting combine, despite his appearing in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. He enjoyed the Shrine game a lot more than he did his game in Mobile. He rushed 12 times for 77 yards in the West’s victory, while his four carries gained negative four yards in the Senior Bowl. However, it should be noted that he was called up for the Senior Bowl ridiculously late in the week.
Without the combine to record his measurables, we had to wait for Hall’s pro day for official workout numbers. And, to be fair, they were worth waiting for. He was timed at 4.4 in the forty-yard dash and managed 27 reps on the bench. Hall also posted a 32-inch vertical jump, a 122 broad jump and a 6.72 three-cone time.
Of the backs invited to the combine, and those who actually tested, very few could boast better numbers across the board than Hall’s. He would have had one of the fastest forties, the fastest three-cone, the sixth best broad jump and the second best number of reps on the bench. These numbers make excellent reading, especially in context of the combine measurables that matter for an RB.
Not many, if any, of the top prospects in this class can come close to these numbers. That’s what makes the absence of buzz around Hall all the more baffling.
Darrin Hall is unlikely to be a first-round pick in 2019, especially as many experts hesitate to give a first-round grade to any of the backs on offer this year. But his athletic talents, plus efficient production on a less than full workload, make him a name that people should be keeping an eye on when the NFL Draft’s second day begins to fail ahead of Day Three.
Most of the major ranking sites have him way down their list on backs, however, as he’s currently unranked in the RotoViz Scouting Index. CBS have him as their RB38, while Walter Football are a tad more generous. Hall is their RB34. The most bullish ranking I can find on Hall comes from PlayerProfiler, who have him as their RB15 in their current rookie dynasty rankings. This is higher than more noteworthy names like Benny Snell or Devin Singletary.
Hall would seem to make the most sense for a team in need of a solid third RB, with potential to step up should anything occur to the players ahead of him. Steelers Depot wrote that;
his prowess as a pure football player and hard-nosed running style will allow him to survive in the NFL in a council type rotation.
The Depot also wrote that Hall’s “athleticism and flexibility” were limitations, but this was before his pro day. He may have shown that, if they are limitations, they are limitations he can overcome. Much will depend on his landing spot, but Hall is certainly a name I will be monitoring closely leading up to my rookie drafts this summer.