Evaluators often say that where a player is selected in the NFL draft is based on projection, not production. One of the primary case studies in the 2014 draft of how true that could be is where University of Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman could be selected.
Hageman is a potential top-15 draft selection, but unlike most of the top prospects in any draft class, he never dominated at the collegiate level. It’s always risky to expect a player to be more impactful in the NFL than he was in college, but nonetheless, few players in this year’s draft class have higher upside than he does.
The team who drafts Hageman will be taking a chance. It’s not a huge stretch to think he could develop into an Ndamukong Suh-level player in the NFL, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise if he never realizes his potential.
How Hageman Could Become a Star
Hageman has one of the most impressive physical skill sets among all players in this year’s NFL draft class.
At 6’6” and 310 pounds with 34 1/4” arms, Hageman has ideal size for an NFL defensive lineman. As his numbers at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine supported, he is an outstanding athlete who plays fast in game action.
|Ra'Shede Hageman's NFL Scouting Combine Results|
|40-Yard Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone Drill|
|5.02 sec||32 reps||35.5"||9'6"||7.87 sec|
Hageman’s greatest asset is his ability to explode off the line of scrimmage. He combines exceptional first-step quickness with the strength to overpower blockers, traits that allow him to quickly blow up a play when he times his get-off correctly.
By the time Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave had even handed the ball off to running back Melvin Gordon, Hageman had already split left guard Ryan Groy and center Dan Voltz with a perfect anticipation of the snap. He used his strength to push between them and his long arms to ward off Voltz before tackling Gordon for a loss.
The versatility that Hageman’s physical skill set gives him also increases his value. Though he is at his best as a 3-technique defensive tackle, he shows the athleticism and pursuit to occasionally line up as a defensive end, and he even has the size and strength to hold his ground as a nose tackle.
Hageman is a scheme-versatile player who has the potential to excel in multiple roles on any defensive front.
When he has a free shot at a quarterback or ball-carrier, Hageman can close for a tackle in a hurry. He tackles soundly and with authority. When he is engaged by blockers, he proves to be a difficult player to move out of running lanes.
To be nasty or ruthless, having that anger and having that swag that yeah, I can do whatever I want—that's the alter ego, because when you're on the field, that's what it takes to beat double teams. You don't give a (bleep). You're crazy and you don't care.
As a former basketball player with long arms and the best vertical jump of any defensive tackle at this year’s combine, Hageman is unsurprisingly excellent at knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage. He recorded nine passes defensed in his senior season at Minnesota, and he also blocked two kicks.
Why Hageman Could End Up Being a Bust
Hageman put up solid numbers in 2013—he recorded a career-high 13 tackles for loss and was a third-team AP All-American—but his snap-to-snap production was subpar for a prospect of his caliber.
He remains a very raw player, overly reliant upon his explosiveness.
It’s rare to see Hageman break down a blocker with his hands. While he can win off the snap with a well-timed swim or rip technique, he hasn’t shown much ability to fight his way off of blocks when his initial moves get countered.
In the NFL, where Hageman’s physical attributes won’t stand out as much as they did against collegiate offensive linemen, he needs to be able to win with technique. He showed some improvement in this area during an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, but has never done so consistently.
While Hageman utilizes his size and strength well to fend off blocks and keep running lanes tight, he is turned away from runs more often than he should be, largely due to his lack of hand-fighting ability.
Hageman’s explosiveness and penetrating ability should enable him to be a highly impactful interior pass-rusher, but he hasn’t consistently been so at Minnesota. He had just two sacks in 2013, and a vast majority of his career pass-rushing production has been a result of exploding through missed blocks. He doesn’t take natural angles to the quarterback.
It’s likely many NFL teams will be willing to overlook Hageman’s technical weaknesses. All of his flaws can be corrected with quality coaching, whereas his physical tools are special and uncoachable.
A team prepared to take a chance on Hageman, however, must feel confident that he will be receptive to coaching and give focus to improving. His motor seemed to run hot and cold during his Minnesota career; if he doesn’t give maximum effort at the pro level, experienced NFL linemen will consistently expose his flaws.
Also, Hageman has almost certainly had tough questions to answer in his interviews with teams. He was suspended for the end of his redshirt freshman season at Minnesota due to academic issues and was arrested for disorderly conduct in 2012.
Teams might be more willing to overlook Hageman’s off-field issues as well because of his tough upbringing, which was recently documented by USA Today’s Tom Pelissero. That said, his limited on-field production, off-field past and his age—he will be 24 years old at the start of his rookie season—are a cocktail for being a bust.
NFL Player Comparison: Ndamukong Suh
According to the website mockdraftable.com, which compares draft prospects based simply upon their measurables, Hageman’s measurables are highly comparable to those of Suh, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft and is a three-time All-Pro selection.
A comparison based strictly on measurables doesn’t tell the whole story; Suh was a far more dominant and complete player at Nebraska than Hageman was at Minnesota. If Hageman is going to make the same type of impact Suh has made in the NFL, he needs to significantly improve his technique and learn to play with greater power.
The physical tools that both Suh and Hageman possess, nonetheless, are hard to find. That makes it likely that someone will take a chance on Hageman in the first round, potentially in the top half of the first frame.
Another player comparable to Hageman, as Bleacher Report NFL Draft lead writer Matt Miller explains below, is Jason Hatcher, who recently signed with the Washington Redskins after spending his first eight years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
Where Should Hageman Be Selected?
If you don't have Hageman in your top 16, you need to recheck your sources. #2014NFLDraft— Greg Linton (@agentlinton) April 22, 2014
Despite his risk factors, Hageman’s potential could prove too much for a team to pass up in the middle of the first round, especially among teams with needs at the defensive tackle position.
Given his upside, Hageman should be the second defensive tackle selected in this year’s draft, following Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. While the case could be made for both Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan and Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III to be selected second at the position, neither of them has the versatility or explosiveness that Hageman can bring to any NFL defensive scheme.
Hageman has many potential suitors in the middle of Round 1. In my most recent mock draft, I projected him to be selected by the Chicago Bears with the No. 14 overall pick. The Bears have a massive need at defensive tackle, but by adding Hageman, they would acquire a player who can fill Henry Melton’s role as the interior penetrator while having the flexibility to play either defensive tackle spot.
Even if he gets past the Bears, Hageman might not be on the board a lot longer. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens hold picks 15-17 in this year’s first round, and any one of those teams could turn to Hageman to provide much-needed defensive line reinforcement.
Not everyone, however, thinks Hageman should be a top-20 draft selection. Miller does not rank Hageman among his top 32 prospects in this year’s class.
I could see Hageman go top 10 and I could see him fall. How teams view his inconsistency will be the key. @brucehartman23— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 23, 2014
All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.