Editor's Note: This story is a part of the Rookie Review series, which evaluates each individual of the Falcons 2021 rookie class, how they performed in Year 1 and what's ahead for them in Year 2.
After a rib injury sidelined Fabian Moreau, Darren Hall was thrust into his first NFL start in week seventeen against the Buffalo Bills. Hall, a fourth-round pick in last year's draft, impressed scouts with his press coverage skills at San Diego State, where he mainly played outside, snagging three interceptions in his final season.
But against the Bills, Hall was playing on the inside, in the nickel. Not only is it a position that Hall had not played a lot of College, but it was also snowing and below 30 degrees, freezing for anyone, but especially for Hall, a southern California native.
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Still, he held his own on the cold day, playing a role he was still adjusting to, and the defense held Josh Allen to just 120 yards through the air and intercepted him three times.
One of Hall's best plays of the game came on Allen's second interception. Cole Beasley was running a route down the numbers, and Hall gave him a legal shove as he passed his zone, forcing Beasley to deviate from his route. Allen had already thrown the ball, expecting Beasley to be open; instead, he threw the ball directly to A.J. Terrell, who secured his second interception of the season.
Everything was not perfect for Hall against the Bills, of course, as Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said, "He played ok. He's a rookie, and he was playing against a really good football team."
The play showed Hall's value to the Falcons defense, and now with a full year in Pees' system and gaining comfortability in the nickel role, Hall is hoping to take a step forward in year two.
"I'm pleased with 'em; they've made some mistakes like every player has, and they're typical rookie mistakes, but … this is not an easy system they're learning," Pees said about Hall and the rookie class as a whole. "We have made a lot of growth. So I'm expecting going into next year that that growth will really pay off for us. So you take your lumps sometimes, learning the system, but now Richie \[Grant\], Darren, all those guys, they don't have to relearn the system they've been through it.
"So hopefully, starting next year, it's not gonna be, you know, brand new to 'em there's gonna be a lot of carryover. Hopefully, if covid ever gets done, we'll have spring and meet with them and do this kind of stuff. It'll pay off in the long haul. I'm pleased overall with all of 'em."
A look back: 14 games | no interceptions | three pass deflections | 27 tackles | Two tackles for loss | One sack | 76.9 percent of targets caught | overall defensive PFF grade 48.0
What Hall learned in 2021: "It's a grown man's league," Hall said with a smile about the physicality and strength of players in the NFL. Hall quickly learned this season he will need to add muscle to his 6-foot 190-pound frame in the offseason to become one of the better players in the league.
Areas for improvement: Playing inside.As mentioned above, Hall did not play inside much during his four years at San Diego State, but this season he played 192 snaps in the nickel compared to 64 outside. Against the Bills, Hall blitzed more times than he could remember; in College, he says he only blitzed six times over his four years. So for Hall, getting comfortable and learning techniques to successfully play inside is his biggest focus for next season.