Ra’Shede Hageman’s game is a work in progress, but the Minnesota defensive tackle has no shortage of athletic potential.
CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman ranked Hageman as the No. 2 player on his “Freaks List,” his countdown of the “craziest athletes” in college football. The one player ahead of him was South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a truly rare athlete who many consider to be a “once-in-a-generation” prospect.
Hageman is listed at 6’6” and 311 pounds by the Golden Gophers’ official athletics website. He combines that height with long arms and has rare athletic ability for a man of his size. A high school basketball standout, Hageman has recorded a 36" vertical jump and can complete a 360 dunk on a basketball hoop, according to Feldman.
Throughout the summer, I have been looking ahead to the 2014 NFL draft and breaking down 10 of the top defensive linemen in the upcoming draft class here at Bleacher Report.
The breakdown series began in early June with Clowney, and appropriately, it finishes with Hageman. (You can find links to each breakdown in the series at the bottom of the article.)
Hageman has started to turn his athletic traits into on-field production. He finished last season with 7.5 tackles for loss, six of which were sacks.
Hageman has the potential for greater production, but his development as a defensive lineman is very much incomplete. He began his career at Minnesota as a tight end and must continue to improve many aspects of his game to take full advantage of his athleticism. While he will immediately stack up against his NFL competition athletically, he does not yet play like an NFL defensive tackle.
Translating His 'Freak' Physical Attributes to the Field
There is no denying that Hageman’s combination of measurables gives him huge potential as an interior defensive lineman. He has a combination of length, size, explosiveness and quickness that is certainly intriguing to NFL scouts.
Hageman has good quickness off the line, which he uses to beat blockers off the snap and penetrate into the backfield.
He has great acceleration and speed for a defensive lineman, so when he does get free into the backfield, he can quickly get up to speed and close in on a quarterback or ball-carrier in pursuit, such as he did on the following play versus Wisconsin.
Hageman’s athleticism is more than just straight-line quickness and speed. He has very good all-around movement skills for a defensive lineman. He moves well laterally along the line of scrimmage and has shown that he cover ground both significantly downfield and out to the sidelines.
His length can be a major asset to his game. Hageman’s length improves his reach, which increases his range to lunge out and make tackles, even when he is out of position or partially blocked. He can also keep blockers off of his body by locking out his long arms.
Hageman, who can bench press 465 pounds according to Feldman, also does an effective job of generating power with his strength.
He has not yet become an overpowering player, but he does demonstrate the ability to drive his opponent into the backfield to bring pressure as a pass-rusher or shut down lanes as a run defender. Although he is a tall defensive tackle, he gets low to play with good pad level, and he does a good job of getting underneath his opponent’s shoulder pads to get leverage.
How Hageman Must Improve His Game
As a redshirt junior last season, Hageman still looked like an athlete learning to play on the defensive line. While his explosiveness, movement skills and length translate to making plays, he must become a much more technically sound player to be consistently productive at the next level.
Most importantly, Hageman needs to become better at using his hands to defeat blocks.
Hageman does not have a strong array of pass-rushing moves. He has a solid rip move which he can use to beat blockers around their outside shoulders, but he does not go to that move consistently and has not demonstrated any other strong rush moves with regularity.
Part of Hageman’s problem is that he is not efficient with his hand play, but also part of the problem is that he simply is not active enough with them. He has not demonstrated that he can fight through blocks with his hands to disengage.
While Hageman can make plays when he explodes by a blocker at the snap, he lacks the counter moves to break free when blockers lock on to him. While he is strong, he has not developed the raw power to reverse the direction of blockers when they initially engages him. This allows blockers to drive him off the line as a run defender and neutralize him as a pass-rusher.
As a result of his shortcomings with technique and use of hands, Hageman often ends up in compromising positions. He gets driven off of the line of scrimmage more than he should. He also gets turned away from plays by blockers.
For an athlete of his caliber, Hageman also has surprisingly subpar balance. He ends up on the ground much more often than he should, whether it be getting knocked down by a cut block, getting knocked over by a blocker’s power or simply tripping over a body on the ground.
Hageman is a solid tackler who does a good job of reaching out for ball-carriers and wrapping them up both at the line of scrimmage and in space.
He is somewhat inconsistent, however, with his tackling form. He does not always commit to tackles he is in position to make.
Projecting Hageman’s Fit and Draft Stock
Hageman’s overall combination of measurables gives him the versatility to play multiple positions on a defensive line.
He has lined up mostly as a 1-technique defensive tackle (between the center and guard, as demonstrated in the screenshot below) at Minnesota, but he also has experience as a 3-technique defensive tackle and even on the edge as a defensive end.
Hageman projects most naturally to a 4-3 defensive scheme, in which he has the potential to play both defensive tackle positions. His athleticism may make him best suited to play the 3-technique position, though he has to become better with his hands to consistently penetrate gaps at the next level. As a 1-technique nose tackle, Hageman would have to be more stout in holding his ground as a point-of-attack run-stopper at the line of scrimmage.
He is an interior defensive lineman who is not going to make his living in the NFL as an edge rusher, but having the versatility to kick out to the edge situationally increases his value.
With the length to command blocks and the lateral agility to move with a run out toward the sideline, Hageman has demonstrated the ability to set the edge effectively at the defensive-end spot. He also has some edge-rushing ability, as he demonstrated in the following play versus Texas Tech (video courtesy of Draft Breakdown).
Hageman exploded off the snap and generated momentum into the right tackle, giving him a strong push to knock him over. He then pressured the quarterback enough to force him to take off and run out of the pocket.
Given his ability to make plays at least situationally as a defensive end, he should also draw intrigue as a 5-technique defensive end from teams running 3-4 defensive schemes. He must develop as an interior pass-rusher and better hold his ground at the line of scrimmage, but his measurables and skills could actually marry together well in that position if he can successfully become a two-gap player.
Altogether, Hageman’s ideal measurables, explosiveness off the snap and schematic versatility are going to draw the intrigue of many NFL teams.
Hageman played like a mid-round pick as a junior, but he is a project who could develop into a much better player than he is now. NFL coaches will likely salivate at the opportunity to work with Hageman’s natural advantages and mold him into the player he has the upside to be.
The good news for Hageman’s draft stock, of course, is that he has another year to develop his game at the collegiate level.
He currently stands as a Day 2 draft pick on potential, but if he demonstrates significant improvement and technical development in his senior season, his athletic potential is likely to vault him into the first round of the 2014 draft.
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Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.