Why Ra'Shede Hageman Can Severely Upgrade Atlanta Falcons' Pass Rush

BJ Kissel@bkissel7Contributor IMay 23, 2014

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The Atlanta Falcons had a pass-rushing problem last season.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), only the Chicago Bears had fewer quarterback hurries as a team than the Falcons.

So they were obviously in the market to add a pass-rusher this offseason. They went out and signed former Kansas City Chief Tyson Jackson and former Miami Dolphin Paul Soliai to play along the defensive line.

These two combined for 1,035 snaps and just 17 quarterback hurries a season ago. 

Both Jackson and Soliai excel against the run, but it's not something that's going to fix one of their biggest issues from last season, which would be getting after the opposing teams' quarterbacks.

This isn't something either of them are particularly strong at doing. 

In steps Ra'Shede Hageman, the Falcons' second-round pick out of Minnesota

At 6'6" and 310 pounds, Hageman looks every bit the part of a defensive lineman who'll wreak havoc in the trenches for Falcons head coach Mike Smith. 

Smith and the Falcons coaching staff had a great opportunity to look at Hageman down at the Senior Bowl as they coached the North squad, via AtlantaFalcons.com.

“The entire organization had an opportunity to spend time with them, not just standing on the field and watching them but working with them in the meeting rooms, having an opportunity to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner,” Smith said.

Hageman provides a high-ceiling, boom-or-bust type of label with him to the Falcons as well. 

Despite his enormous size and functional strength, Hageman didn't have the type of production on paper you'd expect to see from a player with the physically dominant stature Hageman possesses. 

Hageman racked up 38 tackles, which included 13 for loss, two sacks and eight pass breakups, in his final year at Minnesota.

Not bad numbers by any means, but nothing jumps out as the "answer" to an NFL teams' pass-rushing dilemma. 

Considered a risk because of his low production numbers, Hageman provides the one thing NFL teams will always notice and lean toward. 

Size, strength and quickness. 

The next thing that's often said about Hageman by those who know him best deals with his tenacity for playing the game.

A "fury" that's come to define his ability to overcome a troubled past, via John Rosengren of SB Nation:

He was born on fourth-and-long. Mom drank when she was pregnant with him. Traded sex for drugs while he was in diapers. State authorities dragged him out of a crack house closet when he was 4 years old. Threw Mom in prison. Dad? Dead before the kid met him.

The story of Hageman goes well beyond football.

But what's driven him to become the player who put himself in position to be a top-of-the-second-round NFL draft pick, that's what will ultimately fuel Hageman to be successful at this level. 

But Smith knows it's about more than numbers in a box score in regard to Hageman's college production, via AtlantaFalcons.com:

It is important to have push. I say it all the time, sometime sack numbers are overrated.  It is about making the quarterback uncomfortable and making him have to move off of that spot he is so accustomed to standing in when he is throwing the ball whether it is a five step or a seven step drop.

It's that push that helps create those quarterback hurries or pressures.

Smith is confident Hageman can do that in the NFL, and in the Falcons' case, they better hope he's right, because they need more ways to generate pressure. 

Here's a look at some interior disruption from Hageman on a play of his last season at Minnesota. 

BJ Kissel

Hageman initiates contact with the offensive lineman and then physically dominates him all the way back up the field. 

The leverage, strength, drive and determination were all evident on this play. 

It's this kind of pressure that's right back into the quarterback's face that can really help the Falcons next season.

They aren't going to get much of a pass rush on the defensive line from either Jackson or Soliai, so when Hageman gets his opportunities to get after the quarterback in obvious passing situations he needs to take advantage. 

The ability to be a key contributor in the pass-rush department is all there for Hageman next season as a rookie, and he'll have every opportunity to be the difference-maker this defense needs in 2014. 


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