Raiders hope P.J. Hall joins litany of successful small-school picks

P.J. Hall had 42 sacks, 284 tackles, nine forced fumbles, a recovered fumble, four interceptions and blocked 14 kicks -- yes, 14 -- at Sam Houston State. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When it comes to P.J. Hall, there is precedent here.

The Oakland Raiders have taken a shot early in the draft on a relatively unknown player from a relatively unknown school before.

Think Gene Upshaw, who came to Oakland with the 17th overall pick of the 1967 draft out of what was then called Texas A&I and became the first player in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl in three different decades.

Or Art Shell, drafted a year later out of then-Maryland State College in the third round and routinely called "our giant" by Al Davis before becoming the first black coach in modern NFL history in 1989.

Or even Howie Long, a second-rounder from Villanova in 1981. "Matt Millen made the comment when I got off the bus that they'd wasted a draft pick [because] I was white," Long laughingly told Ice Cube in an ESPN 30 for 30 piece. "Walking into that locker room out of Villanova, where there's a priest on every floor, it's obviously a different kind of feeling. First day of practice, you're going in pit drill, one-one-one drills, against Art Shell. It became real apparent, real quick, to me that we weren't playing Delaware."

And of more recent vintage, there was the wild 2009 draft, when the Raiders selected Mike Mitchell out of Ohio in the second round, to the shock of many observers.

"We don't discriminate [against] people just because they didn't play at Notre Dame or USC or in the Pac-12 or SEC," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said.

Maybe that's because the Raiders hope the career of Hall, the defensive tackle taken in April's second round (57th overall) after four eyebrow-raising seasons at Sam Houston State, more closely resembles that of the three aforementioned Pro Football Hall of Famers.

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The same way Long was no longer facing the Fightin' Blue Hens of Delaware, Hall will not see Lamar, or Abilene Christian, or Houston Baptist in Oakland.

And that is just fine with Hall.

"It's just something I have to handle," Hall said when I asked him how daunting the task would be to move up from the FCS to the NFL. "I'm ready for it. I don't fear anything. I'm ready for what comes here and ready to attack everything."

Because while many observers had to scramble to find out who exactly Hall was when his name was called out -- by another former small-school standout-turned Hall of Famer in Grambling State's Willie Brown -- there was a reason the Raiders traded up to get him.

Hall was not been invited to the combine but impressed during his pro day workout and has, as longtime former NFL executive Gil Brandt tweeted, some "Aaron Donald qualities" to his game.

Measuring 6-foot-½ and weighing 308 pounds, Hall ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds, had a vertical jump of 38 inches and bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times.

"Hall is an inside rusher," said Gruden, who has taken a defensive lineman in all but one of what is now 12 drafts as a head coach. "He's a potential 3-technique, outside shoulder of the guard, which is a critical part of this defense that we're going to run here. With [defensive coordinator] Paul Guenther, we like his production, we love his measurables. The only thing he isn't is he's not tall, but this man is extremely powerful.

"The man can run. We need an inside pass-rusher, which, I think I've said that since I've been here. Somebody that can disrupt running plays and penetrate, and this guy can do that, so we're really excited to get him."

In 56 career games for the Bearkats, Hall had 42 sacks, 284 tackles (160 solo), nine forced fumbles, a recovered fumble and four interceptions, and he even had enough hops to block 14 kicks on special teams.

Fourteen.

He blocked 14 kicks at a shade over 6 feet tall. While weighing more than 300 pounds.

"Really just giving effort on every single play, doesn't matter if it's special teams, offense or defense, I just want to give it all on every play," Hall said.

"I did get double-teamed, but like I said, it's just about effort and wanting it more than the guy in front of you."

Said Gruden: "Believe me, we weren't the only team that wanted P.J. Hall."

Hall's seeming preternatural ability to get to the quarterback comes from also playing defensive end early in his college career. That's where his array of shoulder dips, rips and swim moves in tight space comes into play.

As a 3-technique on the interior, he might have to use more of his power. Did we mention that he has squatted 700 pounds, and that he played well against elite competition in the East-West Shrine Game?

So if his skill set translates to the next level, Hall should give edge rusher Khalil Mack some help by occupying blockers on the interior. And that's the plan. That's why the Raiders also drafted Michigan's Maurice Hurst, Pro Football Focus' No. 3-graded prospect in the entire draft, in the fifth round.

Gruden said Hall and Hurst, who slipped due to concerns about his heart, were the two best interior pass-rushers available.

"It's pretty exciting," Hall said. "I'm ready to get to work. We knew we were going to be challenged with our pass rush out here, so just trying to give them what they need and help the team, doing whatever we can do. Pass rush, stopping the run, just ready to get to work.

"Coming on my visit, I knew that they needed help on the interior pass rush, trying to help out the edge rushers that they had. Having interior pass rush that can help collapse the pocket will actually help them out, too, on the edge. We're just ready to get to work here and do what's best for the team."

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Hall is the first Sam Houston State player taken in the first two rounds of the common draft era, since 1967.

Upshaw was drafted, in part, to take on massive Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Buck Buchanan as Oakland's left guard; he played from 1967-1981, going to seven Pro Bowls.

Shell, next to Upshaw at left tackle, protected the blind sides of Daryle Lamonica, George Blanda and Jim Plunkett, as well as the front side of Ken Stabler, from 1968-1982 and was named to eight Pro Bowls.

Long ended up with 84 sacks and eight Pro Bowl nods when he retired following the 1993 season, and Davis tried to get him to come out of retirement in 2000. To play for Gruden.

And still, as a 6-foot-5, 270-pound, unknown rookie pass-rusher with all of nine sacks from a small school who ran the 40 in 4.8 seconds, Long was lost in 1981.

"I thought I stunk," Long told Sports Illustrated in 1985. "I had no confidence -- none. I couldn't understand why they'd drafted me in the second round."

Particularly after that first encounter with the veteran Shell.

"I thought, 'Oh my God,'" Long said.

Hall, though, said he does not fear anything. He does, however, have a healthy respect for his place in Raiders lore as a small-school kid drafted early.

"A lot of great guys that have come through this program, especially D-linemen," Hall said. "We're just trying to make sure we represent it well, represent the name that we're putting on our helmet, on our shirts, because there's just so much history here."