Leon Hall: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict 2014

The face of the superstar cornerback you likely don’t know about. (Image courtesy of CBS)

Ever since he was drafted in 2007, Leon Hall has been one of the best players in the NFL who received the least amount of credit for his play. Hall and Jonathan Joseph were the Bengals’ two stars in the secondary for a very long time, but it was always Joseph who received more of the plaudits for his on-field play.

Joseph signed a big free agent contract to join the Houston Texans. That and his first season in Houston combined to bloat his reputation to even greater levels. While Joseph did deserve that credit because he has been an excellent player for the most part throughout his career also, Hall shouldn’t have flown under the radar.

Hall was the player the Bengals decided to invest in while knowing that they wouldn’t be able to retain both star cornerbacks. His versatility and durability were positives over Joseph, but his performance wasn’t lacking either.

The former Michigan prospect played just five games in 2013. He tore his Achilles tendon, something he had done in his other leg a few years back. It was a devastating blow for the Bengals, because it appears that Hall was enjoying another phenomenal season.

 

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

 

Star slot receiver Randall Cobb didn’t enjoy his outing against Hall

Individual Matchups

Individual matchups looks exclusively at how Hall fared against specific receivers. Each receiver had to have at least four snaps in man coverage against the veteran cornerback. It doesn’t matter where or how Hall was beaten, this chart simply looks at if he was beaten or not.

Note: If you are comparing this year’s chart against last year’s, this chart lists how successful Hall was instead of how successful the receiver was. This was changed this year because it confused people last year.

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Robert Woods 6/6 100%
2 Randall Cobb 12/14 86%
3 Jerricho Cotchery 12/14 78%
4 Brandon Marshall 4/6 67%
Total and Average 34/40 85%

 

Weekly Breakdown

 This section breaks down Hall’s season on a game-by-game basis.

Week 1: Chicago Bears
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 8

Although Hall was beaten three times in this game, two of those were underneath curl routes to Brandon Marshall and the other was an out route to Martellus Bennett when the tight end was too strong at the top of his route.

This was Hall’s biggest mistake during the game.

2014-03-17 20_00_30

Lining up at right cornerback, Hall is playing zone coverage as the offense rolls to the other side of the field. Jay Cutler shows good patience to extend the play, so he ultimately looks back Hall’s way. As soon as Cutler looks towards Matt Forte in the flat, Hall is closing in on him.

However, Forte turns up the sideline and Cutler floats the ball down the field for him to run to. Hall is beaten, but it should also be noted that he is exceptionally quick to recover and limits the big play.

Week 2: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 12
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 7

Jerricho Cotchery beat Hall twice in this game, once when he drifted away from him at the top of a sideline route and once when Hall bought a double move while working across the field. However, Hall definitely got the better of the slot receiver on the whole.

Fluidity is a huge aspect of cornerback play. Fluidity allows cornerbacks to mirror receivers through routes and not give up separation when coming in and out of breaks. Only the very best cornerbacks can consistently stick with the better route runners in the NFL and each of them rely on their fluidity.

2014-02-26 01_45_49

The above gif is of Darrelle Revis, the New England Patriots’ new cornerback. Nobody has the fluidity of Revis, his ability to change direction at times seems to defy physics. However, Hall is one of the few players in the league who is within touching distance.

2014-03-17 21_00_21

As a cornerback who spends a large portion of his time in the slot, Hall needs to be able to change direction very quickly. He can’t afford to plant his foot and drive in either direction, because that would expose him without a sideline to work with. Instead, he has to be able to contort his body while moving and use his footwork to subtly mirror the receiver.

On the above play, Hall pirouettes very quickly when Cotchery initially breaks outside, while his fluidity allows him to break underneath the receiver when he tries to run towards the sideline. Despite making two definitive cuts in his route, Cotchery created no separation between he and the defensive back.

2014-03-17 21_04_33

On this play, the Bengals are playing Cover-2 with press man underneath. Cotchery runs a double move that Cotchery covers throughout. No matter where you stop the play in the route, he is always in the perfect position to either cover the out route that Cotchery faked or the post route that he actually ran.

Cotchery is a smart, crisp route runner who understands how to create separation. The one knock on him is that his athleticism isn’t spectacular. Hall had an obvious advantage here with his fluidity. However, that says more about Hall than it does Cotchery.

2014-03-17 21_12_47

Against Antonio Brown, a very good athlete, Hall showed off his ability to play controlled, aggressive coverage. Brown and Hall barely faced off in this game because Hall spent most of his time in the slot. While Cotchery is a good slot receiver, Hall faced arguably the very best slot receiver in the NFL during the third week of the season.

Week 3: Green Bay Packers
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 12

Entering this game, Packers receiver Randall Cobb had accumulated 16 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns over the first two weeks of the season. The Bengals defense as a whole held him to five receptions for 54 yards, but individually Hall bested that by some distance.

Hall is an all-around player with the versatility to play in a variety of different positions carrying out a variety of different roles. His skill set doesn’t have any notable weaknesses, but there are two strengths that stand out more than anything else.

The first is his fluidity. Something that was detailed in the Steelers game and something that allows him to be so successful in the slot. The second is his length. Hall isn’t a a big player by any measure. He is officially listed at 5-11 and 195 pounds. He is seemingly a very long player though. Hall’s arms are roughly 31 inches long and he gets the most he possibly can from them.

The veteran cornerback’s ability to quickly locate the football and reach it at full extension without interfering with the receiver from a disadvantageous position is incredible. Because most slot receivers are smaller, it gives him an immediate advantage over most players inside.

Not only is Hall quick enough to change direction and run with those receivers, he is also bigger than them.

This allows him to play aggressive coverage that most defensive backs would be terrified of doing against quicker receivers such as Cobb or Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos. Cobb found this out in Week 3 of the 2013 regular season. He was essentially shut down by Hall as he only escaped him twice underneath.

On the Packers’ very first pass attempt of the game, Hall set the tone.

2014-03-17 21_29_46

Quick bubble screens or passes into the flat to uncovered receivers are both staples of the Packers offenses. Most teams give the Packers’ receivers space because they fear the deep threat. The Packers immediately looked to get the ball in Cobb’s hands in this game, but Hall showed no hesitation a he broke into the flat.

This play showed off Hall’s ability to quickly read the play, his acceleration to close the space between he and the receiver as well as his power in the tackle.

Hall made two plays in this game that few, if any slot receivers can make. The above play wasn’t one of them.

2014-03-17 21_43_48

 

Cobb and Hall are lined up against each other in the slot. Cobb does everything he should to set up his slant route. He initially attacks Hall’s outside shoulder before very quickly planting his foot to move inside. Hall stays square with him at all times however and is able to reach in front of his inside shoulder from behind to knock Aaron Rodgers’ pass away.

This doesn’t look like much because it’s not a flashy interception, but it is a phenomenal play…the flashy interception came in the fourth quarter.

2014-03-17 21_47_51

On this play, Hall shows off outstanding technique and awareness. He is always in position to break on any outside pass as Cobb moves towards the sideline, but he then seamlessly turns with the receiver down the sideline. From there he is quick to turn his head and locate the football.

Rodgers’ pass was slightly underthrown, but that was likely because he didn’t expect Hall to turn so easily down the sideline.

This game featured one of the most talented slot receivers in the NFL and probably the most talented nickel cornerback in the NFL. It’s easy to see who came out on top.

Week 6: Buffalo Bills
Total qualifying plays: 12
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 12

The Bills were without Steve Johnson so Hall had an easy day against less talented/less experienced competition.

Week 7: Detroit Lions
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 4

He only covered Calvin Johnson twice. On the first play he was in position running a crossing route, on the other he tore his Achilles and collapsed to the ground on a fade route at the goal line. For the second time in his career, Hall’s season was ended prematurely by a torn Achilles tendon.

2013 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 59
Failed coverages: 9
Shutdowns: 7
In Position: 43
Success rate for the season: 84.7%

The sample size is obviously a hinderance to evaluating Hall’s 2013 season, but in the context of what he did during the 2012 season, it’s easy to see that he was still one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL last year. It’s unclear how he will return after his second major Achilles surgery, especially at 29 years of age, but the talent is abundantly clear.

Results at Spots
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 1
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 1
Success Rate at left cornerback: 0%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 12
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 2
Success Rate at right cornerback: 83%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 56
Failed coverages in the slot: 7
Success Rate in the slot: 88%

Results versus Routes
(Percentage is Success Rate, total routes run is in brackets)

1. Seam 100%(14)
2.  Crossing 100%(6)
3. Slant 100%(2)
4. In 100%(2)
5. Post 100%(1)
6. Out 83%(12)
7. Curl 75%(8)
8. Sideline 73%(11)
9. Double Move 50%(4)
10. Comeback N/A%(0)

The Verdict

Leon Hall isn’t well known, but for the second season in a row, he played well enough to be considered on the same stage as Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. It’s very, very unlikely that there is a better slot cornerback in the NFL and it’s even less likely that player can play outside just as effectively.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf

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