While Najee Harris got all the attention last season (and rightfully so), Iowa State’s Breece Hall was the second-best running back in the nation in 2020. Hall has been at the forefront of Iowa State’s surge into national prominence with tough running and a nose for the end zone. His 1,572 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns were enough to make him a unanimous All-American, the first in the school’s history. It hasn’t been the dream start to the 2021 season Hall wanted, but he’s shown enough in my eyes to be a valuable running back at the next level.
Hall has elite vision for a college running back. He seems to always find an opening and routinely would bounce runs outside, catching the defense over-pursuing. Iowa State calls for a lot of inside runs, but Hall stays patient and makes one cut before hitting the hole. If you lack elite speed and explosiveness like Hall does, you have to be a smart player who has a natural feel for the game. Hall won’t get out of his tempo and stays calm, keeping him in control of the game. As the game speeds up, Hall’s ability to stay calm and use that to his advantage allows him to find wide-open running lanes.
Despite not being all that explosive (more on that later), Hall has the ability to make people miss with ease. While he’s not as physical as I originally expected, he is very elusive. He can make one cut and run with enough force to break through arm tackles. A North-South runner, Hall has the ability to subtly make a cut that puts defenders in the dust. He also has a gnarly stiff arm that he will use to punish defensive backs.
You name the system, Hall can play in it. You want to run wide zone? Hall will be patient enough and find the opening. Want to run in between the tackles? Hall will make one cut and find the open grass. This versatility does help make up for his lack of receiving ability. So often, scheme and fit determine a young player’s success. With Hall, I’m not too concerned about this because of the football player he is. Just get him on the field and watch him work.
Hall seems to play at one speed and it’s not a very fast one. He does a good job of finding the hole and making the right cut, but he doesn’t explode past the defense like so many of the best running backs do. With the elite ball carriers, we see them hit a new gear to pick up extra yardage. Hall hasn’t really shown that. He’s a little heavy-footed and will see a hole close on him because he wasn’t quick enough to get through it. When he does break free, too often he was caught from behind because he couldn’t outrun the safety. Hall will be a player who ages well but may never quite reach elite status.
Future as a three-down back
In Iowa State’s offense, Hall just doesn’t get many opportunities as a receiver. In limited opportunities, he’s displayed nice hands, but he’s rarely asked to run routes. Even if he is more advanced as a receiver than what he’s shown, he will still be a long way off from being a three-down back in the NFL. His role will play a huge part in his development, but we should expect him to see early-down action early on.
Breece Hall and Isaiah Spiller are the two top running backs in this class and this season will determine how high they can go. Hall, as of now, is a late first-round or early second-round pick. I’d like to see him be used more as a receiver, but in Iowa State’s offense, I don’t see that being likely. That means he’s going to have to test better than expected at the combine and impress in the pre-draft process. However, I’m still optimistic about his chances of becoming a high-end starter in the NFL. Pair Hall with a good passing game that’ll spread the defense out and you should expect multiple 1,000 yard rushing seasons from him.