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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — “Take five shots.”
Those words came from a Philadelphia Eagles representative during February’s NFL Combine — and they were directed toward Iowa State’s two-time consensus All-America running back Breece Hall.
The Cyclones’ star didn’t hesitate. He focused on the front of the rim and flicked his wrist.
“I made four out of five,” Hall said after last month’s pro day at ISU. “So it was good.”
It also was weird. After being probed and prodded, tested and timed, Hall was being asked to shoot hoops on a child-sized plastic basketball set, but hey, he aced that exam, too.
“I was a basketball player before I was a football player,” said Hall, who is expected to be among the first backs taken in the NFL Draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday. “Basketball is just second nature to me.”
So is football. Hall eclipsed expectations by running a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine. His other feats of strength, speed and skill impressed scouts, as well. He’s been tabbed as one of the top-two “can’t miss” prospects in this year’s draft by Next Gen Stats — the other being Iowa offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum.
So Hall is broadly considered to be NFL-ready, but still slated by most draft analysts to be a second- or third-round pick, which could mean a lot of teams will actually “miss” on him.
“I chuckle and hear people say at the National Football League maybe, what’s (a running back’s) value?” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said after his team’s final open spring practice on April 15. “Boy, I think we’ve learned the value of a great tailback can be huge.”
At least one draft analyst, Maurice Jones-Drew of the NFL Network, believes Hall will hear his name called on Thursday night. He predicts Hall will be selected 25th overall by the Buffalo Bills. But Hall is less concerned about when he falls than where he lands. He turned heads at the combine and hopes to do the same as a featured back for whatever team selects him.
“I knew that some people were going to question my ability and I was kind of excited for that,” said Hall, who scored a program record 56 touchdowns. “I was like, ‘I’m really gonna show everybody what I can do and they’re gonna be surprised.’ For me, it was like I’ve been doing this my whole life, so it was nothing overwhelming or too much for me.”
Draft night — or nights — won’t cause stress to bubble up in Hall, either. Patience in following a block, or waiting for the best hole to open up, has always been a strength for the Wichita, Kan., native who is a cousin of former NFL great Roger Craig. The same will hold true as he watches teams go on and off the clock, waiting for his time to come.
“My most appreciation for what they’re saying about Breece is how he’s handled himself through the interview process (and) how he’s handled himself in terms of getting on the board with different teams and all those things,” Campbell said. “From the combine to everything he did on pro day, Breece has done everything he needs to do to put himself in the best position for Breece Hall.”
And if Jones-Drew is correct, he’ll be continuing those efforts with a very good AFC team situated in New York.
“The Bills have everything on offense but a consistent running back,” Jones-Drew wrote. “Void: FILLED.”
So stay tuned. Projections don’t always reflect reality, nor do hopes and dreams. No Cyclone has been taken in the first round of the draft since quarterback George Amundson was selected 14th overall by the Houston Oilers in 1973. Hall could break that long drought, but if he doesn’t, he plans to shatter expectations anyway — again.
“Now I’m kind of in that limelight,” Hall said. “It’s really surreal but I’ve been having fun with it.”