UPDATE: The Vikings announced Tuesday afternoon that P.J. Hall failed his physical, voiding the trade and sending Hall back to Las Vegas.
The Minnesota Vikings defensive line was left with a 340-pound hole in the middle of it when Michael Pierce decided to opt-out of the 2020 season due to concerns with COVID-19. While losing a player in any regard to the virus hurts, Pierce’s absence was expected to be larger considering his size and strength were on par to replace Linval Joseph at nose tackle.
The initial reaction to the departure was a slew of defensive tackles still on the market that could help, but the Vikings — with just $5 million worth of salary cap space — decided to go with a cheaper option by acquiring P.J. Hall from the Las Vegas Raiders for a conditional 2021 seventh-round pick.
As is the case with many of these trades, the news brought an initial “Who is that?” from the Vikings fan base. But after a deeper dive of what Hall is and how the Vikings can potentially bring out the best in him, there’s a chance he could be a sneaky good addition to a defensive line currently in crisis.
Who Is P.J. Hall?
Hall was selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s because he attended college at Sam Houston State and didn’t get on the draft radar until he put on a show at his pro day. While these program-run workouts are designed to make their prospects look good, some couldn’t help taking the bait, and former NFL executive and Hall of Famer Gil Brandt saw All-Pro potential in the 304-pounder.
Despite not being invited to the combine, the Raiders paid homage to Al Davis and took him three to four rounds earlier than they should have, heightening expectations before he set foot in Oakland. Predictably, that’s where things went wrong.
In 30 games with the Raiders (18 starts), Hall recorded just 1.5 sacks and 48 combined tackles with eight tackles for loss. With Las Vegas also acquiring Maurice Hurst in the 2018 draft and Jonathan Hankins in free agency, Hall became a project that wasn’t worth the time to develop and was going to be released before Minnesota swooped in with their offer.
On the surface, it’s the kind of low-risk, high-reward move that the Vikings have been accustomed to making. A look at Hall’s PlayerProfiler page shows that he ranked above the 90th percentile in 40-yard dash (4.78 seconds), speed score (118.0), burst score (122.6) and bench press (36 reps), but didn’t have the agility to add to his pass-rushing arsenal. But that’s where Andre Patterson comes in.
How Can Hall Help the Vikings?
Hall’s metrics by Pro Football Focus weren’t ideal. His 70.6 overall grade ranked 46th among qualifying defensive tackles last season, and nothing out of his other metrics seems to stand out. But his tape shows that there’s potential to be brought out even if it’s not at an Aaron Donald-type level.
His best-graded game came in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs where Patrick Mahomes shredded the Raiders for 443 yards and four touchdowns, but Hall showed a couple of plays that show what he can do at his best.
In the second quarter, Hall lined up on the inside and attempted to force his way into the backfield to pressure Mahomes. Using his elite strength, Hall is able to bullrush and get penetration into the backfield but is unable to get to Mahomes. Because Mahomes is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game after two seasons as a starter, the play results in a 44-yard touchdown.
Even in one of his worst games of the season, a Week 4 loss in Indianapolis, Hall showed something in the running game. In this first quarter play, Hall shifts to the left side of the field to take down Marlon Mack for a loss. The TFLs didn’t come frequently for Hall, but it’s another reminder that he has a skill set to make solid plays.
Alas, said plays were rare during his time with the Raiders. Watching his tape, there were too many times where he was neutralized with double teams and even in a one-on-one matchup with Mark Glowinski, he didn’t have a backup move in his toolbox when his strength wasn’t enough to get into the backfield.
How will the Vikings use Hall?
Knowing what we know, there are a couple of options that the Vikings have when it comes to using Hall. One possibility is to use him at nose tackle to push Shamar Stephen. As mentioned in a previous piece, Stephen is good when it comes to doing what the Vikings are asking him to do by setting up his teammates for success. When it comes to being an impact player on the defense, Stephen doesn’t come close to filling that role.
By keeping Hall as a three-tech, the Vikings could hope to develop him in the same way they’ve struck gold with Danielle Hunter, Ifeadi Odenigbo and how they’re hoping to do so with fourth-round pick D.J. Wonnum. Much like Hunter, Hall as plenty of “A’s” when it comes to his athleticism profile and if Patterson can teach him some alternative moves, there’s a foundation there to have him become a reasonable contributor in the middle of the defensive line.
|P.J. Hall||Shamar Stephen|
|Overall PFF Grade||70.6 (46th)||61.2 (91st)|
|Run Defense Grade||67.4 (66th)||59.8 (96th)|
|Pass Rushing Grade||63.4 (49th)||53.9 (110th)|
|Run Stop Percentage||8.2% (85th)||3.8% (120th)|
|Pass Rusher Productivity Rating||4.6 (51st)||1.2 (121st)|
Although pushing Stephen should be a priority during training camp, Hall might be better suited as Pierce’s replacement. Pierce also didn’t offer much in the pass-rushing department but was an elite run stuffer that ranked 23rd with a 9.1% run stop rate last season. Plus with his game being more strength than agility, it fits more with what Joseph brought to the table for the Vikings.
That would leave the three-tech battle as is for the Vikings where Armon Watts, James Lynch and Hercules Mata’afa could battle for passing down work and incumbents Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes can fill in where needed.
No matter where they decide to put Hall, the basis of the trade makes sense. Hall probably will never rise to Donald-like superstardom but could become a solid player with better coaching. If the Vikings can use him as a starter and partially plug the hole that is left behind by Pierce in 2020, that has to be considered a win.