When thinking about Virginia football, it is difficult not to immediately think about former quarterback Bryce Perkins and former cornerback Bryce Hall, athletes who changed the culture of the program. After stellar careers in Charlottesville, both players now look to punch their ticket to the next level — hopefully by having their names called during the NFL Draft later this month. However, after a year where both players had their fair share of unfortunate breaks, uncertainty looms large.
After Hall passed on the opportunity to join former Cavalier safety Juan Thornhill in the 2019 NFL Draft, he returned to Virginia as a preseason All-American, hoping to anchor a lethal secondary. Hall had all the makings of a true first-round pick — intelligence, ball skills, athleticism and size. However, after suffering a season-ending ankle injury against Miami in October, Hall’s 2020 draft status suddenly became a huge question mark. Many started to question Hall’s decision to return to Virginia and his ability to fully recover from the injury.
In fact, in the NBC Sports preseason mock draft, Bryce Hall was slated to go No. 29 overall. However, in a recent post-combine mock draft from Bleacher Report, Hall is not expected to be drafted until No. 79.
Hall’s injury, which required ankle surgery, ultimately kept him out for the rest of the season, and most importantly, into the offseason, which forced him to miss on field workouts at the NFL combine, allowing other premier cornerbacks to impress and jump Hall on many big boards. However, missing out on that opportunity did not stop Hall from making an impact on NFL scouts, impressing them with his football IQ.
“It was interesting to observe some of the other top players and see how they [worked],” Hall said. Being able to nitpick the positives and negatives of his fellow combine attendees allowed Hall to see things from the scouts’ perspective as he built his case based on intangibles and instincts.
While it is difficult for Hall to build any real momentum without performing in on-field drills, his focus and determination has helped him stay the course during an arduous recovery process — slowly starting to rediscover his rhythm.
“Within the last couple weeks, I started to see a lot of progress, in me being able to do some running, jumping and cutting,” Hall said.
Despite him essentially losing his first-round draft status, Hall’s decision to return allowed him to build experience from a perspective he could not have otherwise attained.
“I was basically a coach, so I was in the staff meetings, breaking down film and that kind of stuff,” Hall said. “Being a player, you kind of hear where [coaches] are coming from, but I really took note of that from being on the sideline.”
Hall’s football mind was on full display through the latter portion of the season, as he played a huge role in saving a Virginia secondary that was ravaged with injuries.
Perkins, who lit up the Atlantic Coastal Conference, en route to an Orange Bowl appearance, silenced his doubters all season long, surpassing milestones that seemed like a pipe dream for this program a few years ago. However, despite his success, the Queen Creek, Ariz. native still found himself without an invite to the NFL Combine.
“I was motivated to train even harder, it was like I was training for the Super Bowl,” Perkins explained when asked if his snub from the combine inspired him. Despite Perkins missing the combine, he knew he had plenty more opportunities to impress NFL scouts.
He was set to participate in Arizona State’s pro day, where he would have had the opportunity to throw to former Sun Devils wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who is a surefire first- or second-round pick. Perkins acknowledged that the opportunity would have allowed him to show out in front of all teams looking at Aiyuk, but with the coronavirus outbreak, Perkins’ most promising opportunity was shut down.
While Hall will be picked on Draft Day, Perkins does not have that same guarantee of being drafted. While some scouts say Perkins could be a late-round steal, there are others that do not think he will be drafted at all.
Despite all the uncertainty, Perkins’ versatility fits the modern-day archetype at the quarterback position. Defenses are adjusting and adapting to new offenses, and gone are the days where players such Peyton Manning and Drew Brees dominated through scheming over pure talent. After Lamar Jackson — a dual-threat quarterback like Perkins — won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, the desire to have mobility at the position is at an all-time high.
Perkins, who acknowledges that his draft status is uncertain, touched on the possibility of playing a different position other than quarterback.
“In the right system, definitely. I’m not opposed to it, I just need to know what they are planning. I need to know, would this be a permanent change, or something like a Taysom Hill role,” Perkins said, referencing the New Orleans Saints quarterback who has caught passes and blocked rushers beyond just throwing the ball.
Unlike some dual-threat quarterbacks like former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, who were adamant on playing quarterback, Perkins noted that his primary goal is to simply make the 53-man roster on any NFL team, regardless of position.
Virginia rarely receives the same kind of recognition as powerhouse programs, such as Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State when it comes to producing NFL prospects. Over the years, talented Virginia prospects have been overlooked because of its lack of a name brand in the football world. Whether it is Anthony Harris, who went undrafted in 2015 but ended up tied for the league-lead in interceptions for the 2019 season, or Juan Thornhill, who fell all the way to the bottom of the second round in 2019 and played a key role as the starting safety on a Kansas City Chiefs team that won the Super Bowl — talented Cavaliers have been overlooked.
Once again, that may end up being the case in 2020. Hall may end up falling all the way to the third round, despite being on track to fully recover from his injury. Perkins may end up going undrafted because teams view other quarterbacks as better prospects.
Nonetheless, Perkins and Hall bring exemplary leadership, a winning attitude and a never-say-die mentality, which they adopt from Coach Bronco Mendenhall. If these stars end up slipping in the draft, there is no doubt that they will show out when their time on the field comes.