Chicago Bears Draft Countdown: Making a Case for Ra'Shede Hageman

Andrew DannehyCorrespondent IApril 14, 2014

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman (99) takes the field prior to an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in Minneapolis Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Ann Heisenfelt

As the Chicago Bears prepare for the 2014 NFL draft, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is a player who has a lot of what the Bears are looking for.

Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, Bears general manager Phil Emery highlighted some things that his team looks for. Among the most interesting things he said was: "when we swing, we're going to swing on the high side of athleticism." That is Hageman in a nutshell.

Hageman is the second-best defensive tackle on my board with the first—Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald—likely to be gone. Even if Donald is available, the Bears may be too tempted by Hageman's raw potential to pass on him.

At 6'6" and 310 pounds, Hageman put on a show at the combine. His vertical jump of over 35 inches is incredible for a player of his size, and his 40-yard-dash time (5.02 seconds) was the fastest amongst defensive linemen who weigh over 300 pounds. He also has arms that measured over 34 inches and was able to put up 32 bench press repetitions. 

Hageman is, in many ways, a freak of nature. While the Bears did a lot to add to their defensive line this offseason, it's hard to say that any of them will be cornerstone players like Hageman has the potential to be.

The Bears figure to be set at defensive end for the next few years with Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. They don't have any certainties beyond this year at defensive tackle, however. It's hard to say what they have at all.

Jeremiah Ratliff is the headliner for them, but he'll turn 33 in August and wasn't the same player with the Bears as he was with the Cowboys. At his age with some major surgeries, it's hard to rely on him.

Their other two defensive tackles are younger but have had their fair share of injury woes.

Nate Collins is coming off of a torn ACL and has appeared in just 27 games in his four-year career. Stephen Paea was a second-round pick but has battled a series of nagging injuries for much of his career. Both will be free agents after this season.

If all three of those players stay healthy, the Bears may have a decent rotation, but that seems highly unlikely given their injury histories.

The Bears also have 33-year-old defensive end/tackle Israel Idonije on the roster, and Houston can rotate inside on passing downs. Houston's presence, in particular, limits the need for a pure pass-rusher. Hageman is capable of playing either position inside and even defensive end in some sub-packages.

Out of the consensus top three defensive tackles—with Donald and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan—Hageman has the most versatility. Donald doesn't appear to have the bulk to play nose tackle, while Jernigan doesn't have the pass-rushing skills to play 3-technique. Neither has the length to be an effective defensive end.

What having those five players also does is it enables Hageman to learn on the job without being rushed into the lineup. Both Ratliff and Idonije stand over 6'4" and could help teach Hageman how to stay low in his stance, an issue he had trouble with at Minnesota.

Some have concerns about Hageman's age.

Turning 24 in August, he is on the old side for rookies, but that doesn't mean his upside is limited. If anything, he has the most upside of any defensive tackle in the draft.

Although he is older than Donald or Jernigan, Hageman has been playing along the defensive line for the shortest amount of time. He came to Minnesota as a tight end and switched to defensive end as a freshman before eventually moving inside.

He has had to learn pass-rush moves and hand movements on the fly and has still been more disruptive than Jernigan, finishing with one more career sack and nine more passes defensed. 

Hageman entering the NFL is very comparable to last year's first-round pick Kyle Long. Both players entered the league at 24 years old and had not played their positions for very long, but both bring incredible upside.

As I wrote at the time, what enabled the Bears to take a chance on Long was the successful resume of offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. This offseason, the Bears added two new and experienced defensive line coaches in Paul Pasqualoni and Clint Hurtt. They also added Joe Kim, a martial arts coach who has worked with NFL players to improve pass-rush moves since 1992.

Not every team could make a player like Long or Hageman a success, but the Bears were properly equipped with the former and appear to be again with the latter.

Players with Hageman's physical skills are very rare. Those traits alone should allow him to immediately contribute to the Bears. With the high-quality coaching they'd be able to provide him, he would have a good chance to max out his potential and be one of the best defensive tackles in the league.