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It wasn't enough for Jets GM Joe Douglas to trade back into the first round on Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft to nab Jermaine Johnson. He had to trade up again immediately the next day because he wanted someone else badly too.
Iowa State's Breece Hall is what every NFL coach wants in the backfield: A dependable, fast, bulldozing, gamebreaker. Someone that's going to eat yards but also make defenses fear that he could take it to the house on the opening play of the game.
And the Cyclones' running game coordinator/running backs/wide receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase saw what Douglas saw in Hall back in Wichita, Kan. when he was coming out of high school.
"I knew he was tremendously athletic for his size," Scheelhaase told SNY over the phone. "I knew he was really, really productive in high school. Playing against really good competition in Wichita, in the state of Kansas, and I think those were the things that stood out just from watching his video tape. As you got to know him, I felt like I realized he had this quiet confidence about him that he really did feel even in those early moments that he could have a really, really special college career.”
Hall did much more than that, but as a true freshman, he had to ease himself into Iowa State and NCAA football.
"His first five games, he didn’t really play very much. He got in a little bit, a few downs here and there the first couple games, and more than anything figuring out college football, figuring out what it took to be ready each week at practice, figuring out even just the time and balancing a work load of college academics and his on-field responsibilities," Scheelhaase said.
But while some players take a year, or even two, to get acclimated to their new surroundings and earn playing time, it only took Hall five games before he exploded in the Big 12.
Iowa State played West Virginia, Hall totaled 132 yards on 26 carries with three rushing touchdowns and the rest was history.
"He wasn’t the starting running back that game, but that was the last time in the last three years that Breece didn’t start a game," Scheelhaase said with a laugh.
What Douglas and the Jets saw, though, was Hall's production over his previous two seasons, in which Hall set an NCAA record of 24 straight games with a rushing touchdown. In total, he found the paint 41 times on the ground... in 24 games.
"The farther that you go along scoring touchdowns and producing the way that he did, and to really finish his career the way he did with everybody in the country and every defense that we played for sure knowing that he was going to get the ball in those situations, and he was going to be the centerpiece of the offense, to still have that production. That’s challenging," Scheelhaase admitted.
But just how does Hall do it? How can defenses know the run is coming and he can still tally 1,572 yards in 2020 and 1,472 yards in 2021?
Think prime Le'Veon Bell (not the version the Jets saw).
"I think that comparison to Le’Veon Bell and that patience with the ability to burst and that size combination is something that is unique and not a lot of guys have. It definitely is something that developed as he gained confidence in our run scheme and the reads he was making," Scheelhaase explained.
“He always knew how to set defenders up and how to bait defenders into taking a gap that they shouldn’t and being able to burst and beat them to a spot. That’s something that’s hard to teach and that’s something you saw throughout Breece’s career, being able to expose defenses by doing that.”
Now there is a big knock for some on how much Hall was utilized by the Cyclones in his three seasons. He had 800 total touches from scrimmage, which is pretty rare for someone entering the league.
But fret not, Jets fans, Scheelhaase is confident that Hall's availability won't take a hit from it. He's seen first hand just how easy some things are for him compared to the rest of his players.
"I thought Breece for three straight years, not only come up and not miss a rep on the game field, but not miss a practice rep throughout the year," Scheelhaase said. "There wasn’t one game week that Breece didn’t practice, that Breece didn’t show up for a rep on Tuesday or a Wednesday. I think he’s got a high level of durability."
The Jets know that Hall could develop into their bell cow in the backfield, but at first, it's going to be a running back by committee. Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman are also back there, and Hall will have to fight for his reps all over again, something Scheelhaase said he had to do initially.
And Hall's perfectly fine with those situations.
"He looks forward to being around really, really good players," Scheelhaase said. "He has that sense of belonging that he’s supposed to be there.”
But Scheelhaase believes that Hall never let his stardom in Ames, Iowa ever get to his head.
"It’s late in his sophomore season, it’s the Fiesta Bowl and he’s a Heisman hopeful, and I’m looking and seeing on Friday night before the game, the head coach allows players to sit wherever. You don’t have to sit by position and he’s sitting there at a table with a true freshman QB, sophomore who’s a backup linebacker, a couple of receivers. I don’t think there was a starter at the table outside of him. I just don’t ever think he used who he was to big time people or act like he had some kind of different status. He was a heck of a team member.”
To further show how much his teammates loved him, check out the Cyclones in their locker room all watching and celebrating as Hall ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine:
This is the type of player the Jets are getting: A guy who puts his head down, works, produces and is loved by his coaches and teammates through and through.
For Scheelhaase, remaining that same player will be the key to a long season for Hall.
"Stay true to who he is. I think if he does that, he’ll have a long, awesome career," he said.