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Raiders DT P.J. Hall is an under-the-radar second round pick you need to know

The Sam Houston State product is drawing Aaron Donald comparisons.

NCAA Football: East-West Shrine Game Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Hall didn’t show up on many mock drafts this spring. He wasn’t even invited to this year’s NFL Combine. But by the end of April, he shot all the way up to the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft where he was picked by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 57 pick.

The Sam Houston State defensive lineman was a big fish in the Southland Conference’s small pond, but his college numbers alone would have merited a look as this year’s draft wound down. Hall was a downright beast for the Bearkats, tearing through offensive linemen like tissue paper en route to a career whose numbers look like they came straight from a video game:

  • 284 tackles
  • 86.5 tackles for loss
  • 42 sacks
  • 9 forced fumbles
  • 4 interceptions (he’s a down lineman!)
  • 14 blocked kicks (!) (!!) (!!!)

And then came his chance to shine at SHSU’s pro day, where Hall took full advantage of his opportunity to impress NFL scouts:

A 4.7 second 40-yard dash ... at 308 pounds. That is freakish speed, quickness, and power — and it could be enough to work him into the first three rounds.

Why was P.J. Hall worth the gamble of an early pick?

While his ability to demolish FCS competition made him an interesting late-round pick, his huge pro day performance turned him into something more. Hall made himself look a lot like two other havoc-wreaking defensive tackles who turned freakish workout numbers into NFL success: Aaron Donald and Grady Jarrett.

After starting his college career at defensive end, Hall has settled in to his natural NFL position at tackle — where he was big as I-AA player, but at 6 feet tall and 308 pounds will be a bit undersized for the position. Playing for an FCS powerhouse like Sam Houston State was a blessing and a curse. He got to see the FCS Playoffs in each of his four seasons and advanced to the subdivision’s semifinals in three of those years.

Unfortunately for Hall, the Bearkats’ stature meant they weren’t a sure-win cupcake for a needy FBS team. As a result, his national exposure was limited — he only played two games against FBS competition, and none as an upperclassman.

Hall had 10 total tackles in losses to LSU and Texas Tech, but dominated in relative obscurity through the rest of his playing days. The league left him off its combine invite list, a move that in retrospect cost him a lot of hype. His 4.7 40 time would have dominated NFL Network’s coverage had he done it in Indianapolis and not Huntsville, Texas.

But the league is willing to sift through and reach into the far ranges of its scouting reports to invest in a project like Hall. The Browns proved that by taking the greatest player in UNC-Charlotte’s (then) four-year history: Larry Ogunjobi in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

While Donald and Jarrett are great comparisons, Ogunjobi may be more apt

Ogunjobi was another small-school standout who began his college career at the genesis of Charlotte’s program. That gave him two seasons of FCS play and two transitioning into FBS to build his case for NFL scouts. He got even better after the 49ers made the leap to Conference USA: 28 of his career 49 tackles for loss came in his final two years.

Ogunjobi rose all the way to the first pick of the third round of last year’s draft, but that had as much to do with where he was before he started his college career than how he finished it. The Nigerian didn’t play football until he was a sophomore in high school, then worked to build himself up from 240-pound zero-star prospect to 305-pound gap-plugger. Hall doesn’t provide the same parabolic upside Ogunjobi did last spring, but his impressive resume should be enough to convince executives he’s got a Pro Bowl ceiling.

At 6’2 the current Brown was longer and a little leaner than Hall. While scouts raved about Ogunjobi’s quickness and ability to blow up blocking schemes with his quick first step, the Sam Houston State product has proven to be even faster. He outmeasured Ogunjobi in most of the combine drills he participated in at his pro day, and his eye-popping resume should be enough to present a compelling case to any scout in the league.

The question is whether Hall’s productivity will translate for Oakland. Though he was matched up against FCS opponents, it’s not like he was toiling away in the Northeast Conference. Sam Houston State regularly played the best teams I-AA ball had to offer, and four straight playoff appearances ensured he played his share of big games. He notched 20 tackles (four for loss) and an interception in the Bearkats’ 2017 run to the semifinals. In 2016, he accounted for -25 yards (two sacks, 3.5 TFL) against eventual national champion James Madison.

Ogunjobi showed flashes of brilliance in a rookie year defined by its learning curve. While he had only 32 tackles and one sack in 2017, he also impressed Cleveland’s leadership enough for the franchise to ship defensive tackle and former first-round pick Danny Shelton to New England. That move should lead to more playing time for the second-year lineman, who made just one start last year.

Hall’s outsized college production could mean an even better start to his NFL career. Everything he’s done on paper — whether its racking up tackles, blocked kicks, or ludicrous 40 times — paints him as a draft bargain. The question now is whether the second round was too early.