Like every undrafted free agent, Emanuel Hall faces a difficult path to make an NFL roster. His path with the Bears, though, looks even more treacherous given the depth ahead of the former Mizzou wide receiver.
Hall isn’t going to beat out Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel or Anthony Miller. Cordarrelle Patterson is guaranteed $5 million for 2019, so he’s not going anywhere. Riley Ridley wasn’t drafted in the fourth round (and with the team’s second of five draft picks) to not make the team.
With five receivers all but locked into roster spots, a question lingers: Is there even room for another receiver on the Bears’ 53-man roster?
Even if the answer is yes, Hall would have to beat out a group of contenders for that spot led by Javon Wims and Marvin Hall. So why did the speedy Hall, who thought he’d be a Day 2 draft pick comfortably assured a roster spot, come to the Bears?
“I was kind of looking at the depth chart but at the end of the day I’m confident in my abilities and I know coach (Mike) Furrey can take me to a whole new level, so I’m just ready to get to work,” Hall said. “Who’s on the depth chart, who’s not on the depth chart really isn’t a matter of mind to me. At the end of the day, my work is going to prove for itself, my results are going to prove for itself and that’s what I plan to do.”
Hall spoke highly of Furrey, the Bears’ second-year wide receivers coach, last weekend during rookie minicamp. He and coach Matt Nagy seemed to click, too, after meeting with the Bears during the pre-draft process. Hall’s speed and explosive playmaking ability made him a favorite target of Drew Lock during their time at Mizzou, and it’s those traits that made Hall one of the Bears’ more intriguing undrafted free agents signings.
Nagy said Hall’s decision to sign with the Bears rather than a team offering him more money showed a certain level of maturity.
“Sometimes when those guys are in that situation at the end of the draft, they’re really frustrated, they’re emotional and they don’t get drafted (when) they thought they should have,” Nagy said. “And then money becomes the No. 1 priority for them, and sometimes that can come back and get them. I was really proud of Emanuel to be able to make a good decision of going to where he wanted to go to.”
The underlying point here is that Hall may have an open window to make the Bears’ 53-man roster, but he’ll have an opportunity through OTAs, training camp and preseason games to force his way onto it. Or, if that fails, he could put enough on tape in the preseason to get himself snatched up by another team. But Hall believes signing with the Bears to work with Furrey in Nagy’s offense — instead of with one of the other 20-plus other teams he said offered him — gives him the best shot of proving he belongs in the NFL.
“I trust this coaching staff, I trust the culture that's going on here,” Hall said. “It's a winning program and I love that. I'm just ready to embrace it. I'm just ready to soak in all that this program has to offer. Man, I'm just ready for the road to prove myself.”
Hall’s road to prove himself, though, won’t be traveled just by putting good things on tape. One of his bigger red flags in the draft process was his history of injuries — recurring groin and hamstring issues limited him to 18 games his junior and senior seasons, though they didn’t prevent him from having eye-popping athletic testing scores at the NFL Combine (headlined by a 4.39-second 40-yard dash).
There also was a report of Hall’s “attitude” being viewed as a problem, though he dealt with the unexpected death of his father in October of last season.
The injury part of things is something on which the Bears were willing to take a chance thanks to their confidence in head trainer Andre Tucker’s program.
“There’s some elements to that, in regards to our training program, (are) going to be different than every other training program from other teams that they come from,” Nagy said. “… We feel really good about when we bring people in here, we really sometimes don’t care as much about what happened in the past — what can we do now? Let’s fix it, let’s give him a clean slate and let’s roll.”
That Hall wasn’t picked was a surprise to not only him, but plenty of observers and analysts of the draft. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranked him 59th on his top 100 and NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein compared him to the speedy and productive Mike Wallace, for example. Hall hosted a draft party both Friday and Saturday at his family’s home in the Nashville area, expecting to celebrate with those closest to him after the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of hearing his name called at the NFL Draft.
That moment never came. It’s possible 32 NFL teams missed 254 times on not drafting Hall. But the odds aren’t in his favor as he sets out to prove every single talent evaluator, general manager and coach — the Bears included in this — wrong. NFL teams often don’t seem to know what they’re doing, but there are enough smart people in front offices around the league to the point where saying it’s a surprise a player didn’t get drafted is sort of an overwrought argument to make.
Just because Hall faces steep odds and a difficult path ahead doesn’t mean he won’t make it with the Bears, or in the NFL. And as he moves forward, he’ll carry with him what he felt during the draft as 254 names were called — just not his.
“I promise you it’s a feeling that I’ll never forget,” Hall said. “That was one of the worst feelings ever, being undrafted. If I would have gone into it knowing I wasn’t going to be undrafted, I don’t think I would have felt that way. But in the same sense, everything happens for a reason. And I love the Chicago Bears. Awesome city. So Bear Down.”