Bryce Hall is making a case to be the New York Jets’ long-term No. 1 cornerback
One of the greatest silver linings of the New York Jets‘ ugly 2021 season has been the emergence of second-year cornerback Bryce Hall. The 2020 fifth-round pick out of Virginia has not only blossomed into a reliable starter, but he is making a case to be the team’s long-term No. 1 corner.
Let’s dig into some of Hall’s numbers through 14 games to figure out what his ceiling might look like as his breakout second season winds down.
Hall has yet to record an interception this season and has only one interception in 21 career games. Ballhawking is something he must improve upon if he wants to become a household-name superstar, but despite the lack of picks, he is excellent at making plays on the football.
With 13 passes defended, Hall is tied for eighth-best in the category among cornerbacks.
Pro Football Focus has credited Hall with 14 “forced incompletions” – i.e. plays in which the defender turned a potential completion into an incompletion through contact with the ball, player, or both. Compared to passes defended, this stat takes out deflections at the line of scrimmage, lucky interceptions, and other forms of on-ball plays that don’t actually have to do with at-the-catch-point coverage, giving us a more clear look at a cornerback’s ability to play the ball at the catch point.
Hall’s total of 14 forced incompletions ranks second-best among cornerbacks, trailing only New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore (19). Here is a look at the top-10:
- Marshon Lattimore (19)
- Bryce Hall (14)
- Kendall Fuller (13)
- James Bradberry (13)
- Anthony Averett (12)
- Eric Stokes (11)
- A.J. Terrell (11)
- J.C. Jackson (11)
- Anthony Brown (11)
- Byron Jones (11)
Even on a per-target basis, Hall remains the second-best cornerback at forcing incompletions. Hall has forced an incompletion on 14 of his 64 targets, a 21.9% rate that still ranks second-best behind Lattimore:
- Marshon Lattimore (22.6%)
- Bryce Hall (21.9%)
- A.J. Terrell (21.2%)
- Greg Newsome II (20.5%)
- Sidney Jones (19.0%)
- Kristian Fulton (18.6%)
- Carlton Davis (17.8%)
- Emmanuel Moseley (17.6%)
- Brandon Facyson (16.1%)
- James Bradberry (15.9%)
Once again, it would be ideal to see Hall bump up his interception production at least a little bit – tracking the ball is something he can struggle with – but with his tremendous length and sticky coverage, he positions himself to make more deflections and breakups than just about anyone at his position.
In addition to excelling when targeted, Hall is doing well at keeping the ball from coming his way in the first place.
Hall has been targeted 64 times this season (tied for 29th-most) despite playing 518 coverage snaps (15th-most). His average of one target per 8.1 coverage snaps ranks 23rd-best out of 106 qualified cornerbacks (79th percentile).
Thanks largely to his target prevention, Hall is one of the league’s better corners when it comes to limiting production on a per-snap basis. Hall has yielded 458 yards on 518 coverage snaps, a rate of 0.88 yards per cover snap, which ranks 26th out of 106 qualifiers (76th percentile).
Man vs. zone coverage
The Jets are a zone-heavy defense, but it’s in man coverage where Hall has been at his best.
Hall’s man coverage grade of 75.8 ranks sixth-best out of 106 qualified cornerbacks at PFF (95th percentile). His zone coverage grade of 62.7 ranks only 73rd out of 106 corners (31st percentile).
Hall has been just as good at playing the ball in both forms of coverage – he has the fifth-best forced incompletion rate in man coverage (25.0%) and second-best in zone coverage (21.2%) – but the problem is that he has given up four touchdown passes in zone coverage, tied for the position lead with Bashaud Breeland (who was just released by Minnesota).
Big plays allowed and created
The main blemish on Hall’s resume is the disparity between the number of big plays he gives up and the number of big plays he makes.
Hall has been credited with allowing five touchdowns this year, tied for the eighth-most among cornerbacks. He is tied for fourth in most touchdowns allowed without recording an interception.
In addition to having only one interception across 108 career targets, Hall also does not have any forced fumbles or fumble recoveries in his career. So, while his overall coverage consistency is excellent, he is a net-negative in the big-play department, giving up a decent chunk of scores without producing the takeaways to make up for it.
Hall is a good tackler. He has made 60 tackles this season while only being credited with three missed tackles, giving him a missed tackle rate of 4.8%. That ranks 12th-best out of 109 qualified cornerbacks (90th percentile).
While Hall does not miss many tackles once he meets the ball carrier, he often fails to meet the ball carrier in the first place when defending the run. Hall tends to take some poor angles in the run game, often giving up the edge by cheating too far inside. He has been responsible for a handful of big run plays this season.
Hall has a run defense grade of 48.8 at PFF, which ranks 90th out of 109 qualified corners (18th percentile).
So, is Hall a “No. 1” cornerback?
At the very least, Hall is proven that he is undoubtedly a quality starting outside corner in the NFL. That’s for certain.
But should the Jets pencil in Hall as their long-term top cornerback and completely ignore looking for an even better player at the position?
As of right now, probably not.
Hall remains in the “very good” range right now – he’s not quite “great” or “elite” just yet. To get there, he’ll need to sharpen his run defense, lessen his touchdown susceptibility, and increase his takeaway production.
Considering Hall’s current limitations, if the Jets think they can get their hands on a cornerback who does have an elite level of talent, be it through free agency, a trade, or the draft, they should certainly go for it.
This is not to say that Hall (at his current production level) cannot be the best cornerback on a good or great defense. He definitely could be. In a league where it has become difficult for cornerbacks to dominate due to the increasingly offense-friendly rules and the limitations on how much contact is allowed, it is not necessary to have a superstar cornerback to field an elite defense. “Very good” corners like Hall can get the job done.
Complacency does not win championships, though. While Hall is an outstanding building block, he is not quite spectacular enough to prevent the Jets from considering using premium assets on another cornerback if they wish to do so. Anything short of superstar-level talent is not enough to cross a position off a team’s shopping list, and Hall is not at that level yet.
Not to mention, the Jets need a second cornerback anyway. Fellow starter Brandin Echols has been decent for a sixth-round pick and should be a strong long-term backup, but he has not proven enough to be considered a surefire starter next year.
So, ultimately, here’s how I see it: the Jets should remain open to adding a cornerback who has the potential to be even better than Hall, but if the dominoes fall in a way where the Jets cannot get a “true No. 1” cornerback next season (or if New York does not want to make such an investment), the Jets should feel perfectly fine with Hall as their top cornerback once again going into next season.
There are things Hall must improve before he can hit his ceiling and reach stardom, but he is still a very solid starting cornerback as-is and continues to show he has the talent to potentially become one of the best corners in the league.