Undrafted, Emanuel Hall says "this is a feeling I'll never forget"
FRANKLIN, TN--What was supposed to be the best weekend of Emanuel Hall's life slowly and painstakingly turned into another hurdle for a young man who has had more than his share of them. Thought before the NFL Draft--a draft held in his home town, which he said recently felt like "it was meant for me"--to be anywhere from a second to a fourth-round pick, Hall found himself undrafted with any of the 254 selections over seven rounds by the end of Saturday.
"I think something happened in between that changed teams' minds," he said. "I take it very personal. This is what it is. It motivates me. For me, I work best under pressure. And this is a lot of pressure."
Hall, who signed with the Chicago Bears shortly after the draft ended, has some thoughts on why he did not get selected. He said he fielded calls from a number of coaches or team personnel during the day on Saturday and every one told him they were stunned he was still on the board. But every one also opted not to draft him.
"There's definitely a different feeling of being drafted and being an undrafted free agent," he said. "It's definitely a fire that I don't think you can naturally just have. It just ignites a whole other level. I'm ready to go."
The weekend began on Friday night with Hall surrounded by close to 25 family and friends. Balloons hung around his mother's house, a cake with the words "2019 NFL Draft" sat on the counter waiting for the moment his name was called. The moment never came.
"I'm a little pissed," Hall said. "And that's how it should be. If you weren't pissed, you're not a competitor and you probably don't want to play anyway. And for my skill caliber, I believe my caliber of skill is first round. If I would have been able to play this whole season, I could have had 1600 yards, 1700 yards. Easily. My junior year I had 800 yards essentially in five or six games."
Injuries prevented Hall from ever putting together a full season. Still, he caught 97 passes for 2016 yards and 16 touchdowns over the course of his career. He emerged as one of the nation's premier deep threats over the last two seasons, running down the throws of Drew Lock, who was drafted in the second round on Friday night by Denver.
"Every time that he got really to full speed, there was a pain level that he felt like whatever muscle, whatever tendon, whatever ligament was about to shred. I don’t know how you say that in a medical report," Missouri head coach Barry Odom said. "There are some things he did just on grit alone that he will never get enough respect for."
Still a bit short of a hundred percent, Hall turned heads at the NFL Scouting Combine in March with a 4.39 second 40-yard dash and an 11-foot-9 broad jump that was the second best in combine history. But none of that was enough.
"I've done it for years and years in the SEC," Hall said. "I consider myself still one of the best products in this draft. I played basically half the games last year, seven games, I had almost 800 yards which is one of the best in the SEC. My production is a lot higher than most. Guys in this draft, I've seen corners I played against and had 170 yards against. I've seen wide receivers that didn't even have as many yards in their career as I did in one season and a couple of games. I take it personal. And this is, I'm telling you, a feeling that I'll never forget."
Hall said he started having a bad feeling late in the fourth round when he had not been picked. At that point, he had been watching television for about six hours. He left the living room and went upstairs. He and his family spent much of the rest of the day on the phone with agent, Chris Turnage, trying to find out exactly what was happening. By that point, only a handful of family friends and three reporters were downstairs watching the draft unfold.
"It's frustrating, definitely," Hall said. "I worked my whole life for this and for whatever reason it got taken away, at least the draft opportunity. At the end of the day, I'm playing football. Money's just money and I don't play for money. I play because I love the game and also for my pride. This is a shot to my pride a little bit."
By the middle of the seventh round, shortly after teammate Terry Beckner Jr. was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hall had already made up his mind to go the free agent route. There were about 30 picks remaining when he spoke to reporters on the front porch with red-rimmed eyes, but Hall knew he had options and this would allow him to choose his destination. He had already made up his mind he wasn't being drafted.
"I plan to play a long time and for those guys that didn't draft me, I'm gonna show out against them," he said. "Camp starts soon for whatever team I go to, whether it's this weekend or next weekend. I have a lot of people that support me and I don't do it for anybody but them. The people who are with me are with me and the people who want to hate or say whatever, I'm sure there's a lot, they're just there. At the end of the day only a few people in your life really are important."
For Hall, proving people wrong is nothing new. He was a low three-star recruit out of high school despite elite athleticism. He had five SEC offers and was far from ignored as a recruit, but also wasn't considered an elite prospect and wasn't even ranked nationally at his position.
Hall battled injury throughout his career, losing five games during his senior season to a groin problem that never totally went away. While he was on the sideline, his father died unexpectedly of an accidental overdose. Hall had to heal in more ways than one.
"If he was here during this moment, he would be shocked, for one," Hall said of his father. "But he would have been really proud leading up to it because he would have been like, 'Dang, my son's about to get drafted.' This was definitely something I wanted to do for him, but at the end of the day if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Like I said, it just ignites more fire in me. I don't quit.
"I think this is probably the first time in my life that I feel like there's a goal that I didn't necessarily accomplish. But at the same time, this goal's not done. The draft is one stage."
“Everyone’s got stories, everybody’s got issues, everybody’s got circumstances, opportunities, whichever way you want to look at it. But it’s life,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone because you see how he was hurt as a person and emotionally absolutely drained on so many levels. It was hard. Credit to him all the things he did to put himself in the position he’s in today.”
The position he is in now is once again trying to prove everybody wrong.
"I'm going to prove every single team wrong," he said. "Even the team that gets me because they didn't get me. There was plenty of opportunities for 32 teams."
Hall defiantly said he isn't just trying to make a team. He is trying to play..for a long time. He believes his best football is ahead of him. Earlier this week, Odom agreed.
“Not even close,” Odom said when asked if people have seen Hall’s full potential. “I think they’ve seen glimpses of what he is. I have not seen, not because I coach him, but I have not seen a guy from the line of scrimmage to 15 to 17 yards faster than him. And we tried to cover some really good guys. I think he’s got elite, elite, elite speed.”
It wasn't enough to hear his name called during the draft. But before the picks were even finished coming in, Hall had already turned his attention to the next step.
"I've dealt with a ton and this is just a part of it all," he said. "There's nothing I can do about it. This decision's out of my hands. One thing I do know is I know what type of player I am. And if I wasn't motivated before, you best believe I'm motivated now. This is a chip that I'll remember forever and keep forever. This is a feeling that I hope a lot of guys don't get."