A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2014 second-round pick, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.
Note: Before proceeding, I think you should take the time and opportunity to read an excellent feature on Hageman done by SB Nation’s John Rosengren from last November. I based a lot of my assessments about Hageman’s character based off the information I read in Rosengren’s piece as well as other available sources online. I have not met Hageman, and therefore some of these assessments are unfair on my part without such face-to-face interation. But nonetheless, in efforts to providing the best available online content revolving around the Atlanta Falcons, I would be remiss if I did not consider it.
40 Time: 5.02
Bench Press: 32
His name is pronounced “Ruh-SHEED HAYG-men” although he was born Ra’Shede Knox on August 2, 1990. He was in foster care system until age 7 before he and his younger brother, Xavier, were adopted by Eric and Jill Hageman. He attended Washburn High in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As a redshirt freshman, he played in eight games as a backup, ending the season with five tackles. He was suspended for the final four games that year due to academic issues. He returned as a sophomore to appear in 13 games as a backup, with 13 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. The following spring he was arrested while trying to break up a bar fight and was charged with disorderly conduct, although the charges were eventually dropped. The ensuing fall, he earned starting position with 12 starts. He had 35 tackles, 7.5 for loss, six sacks, one forced fumble and a pair of pass breakups. As a senior, he was voted a captain and Team MVP and started all 13 games at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 38 tackles, 13 for loss, two sacks, one interception, eight pass breakups and two blocked kicks.
Possesses impressive wingspan with 34.25-inch arms and 10.25-inch hands.
2013 GAMES WATCHED
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The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Strength (9.0) – He wins largely with strength and power alone, possessing an abundance of both. That allows him to be a mismatch for most collegiate guards and tackles when put on an island. Forced him to draw more double teams as a senior because of it. He has a thick frame, but has the potential and capacity to get bigger and stronger. Did 32 bench reps at the Combine.
Point of Attack (5.5) – Has the strength to hold the point of attack and anchor, keeping blockers off his linebackers. But does not know how to use his hands to disengage from blocks to get off them to make the play. Struggles to beat double teams because of his inability to shed blocks. Is more of a penetrative interior player that doesn’t have ideal quickness and burst to reliably penetrate. When he does anchor and make a play at the point, it’s usually when he’s clogging the middle with his body rather than actually defeating block and wrapping up a ballcarrier.
Quickness (6.0) – Has a capable first step that can get by slower-footed guards and tackles. His quickness off the ball allows him the potential to convert speed to power and use bull rush, both inside and outside. But lacks ideal fluidity and flexibility, evidenced by his low three-cone time (7.87) and it shows when he’s asked to show range and make plays in space, which he rarely does.
Pass Rush (5.5) – Tends to overly rely on his initial surge and first-step quickness to beat blocker. Can convert speed to power to help collapse pocket and bully guards and tackles. Is effective using that power when lined up outside and his most effective pass rush comes when he is bull-rushing tackles. Not typically going to beat guards with his speed and quickness, although he can occasionally. But because he doesn’t know how to use his hands to keep blockers off him and disengage, he doesn’t maximize his quickness.
Recognition (3.5) – Doesn’t use his eyes well when it comes to tracking the ball in the backfield, whether that is via a running back or quarterback. At times will turn his back to the ball trying to get skinny to beat a blocker. Doesn’t reliably maintain gap integrity, looking to shoot into the backfield.
Motor – (5.0) – Effort can be suspect at times, although that may be partly due to conditioning. Will chase at times to make tackles downfield, but won’t consistently play to the whistle. If his issues are due to conditioning, getting into an NFL-caliber strength and conditioning program should erase any question marks here. Given his lack of range, also explains the lack of plays he can make on effort alone.
Based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.
Potential Impact Prospect (6.0) – A player with upside to be an occasional playmaker as a starter at the next level. Typically a player that may need a year or two before he reaches his potential. Often will be high ceiling, low floor players that may lack the consistency to really reach that ceiling. They’ll make “flash” or “splash” plays from time to time, but may also make as many mental errors or get beat just as frequently. Ultimately a good second-round target, although would be considered a reach in the first.
Just purely off the eyeball test, Hageman passes muster.
If you could stand him beside the 22-year old versions of Richard Seymour and John Henderson, you would see similarities in terms of their build and physique. However, Hageman does not play like either player. Both Seymour and Henderson were far more dominant collegiate players, even though both were plagued at times by inconsistency, particularly Henderson.
There certainly is the potential that if he develops, he could become a physical dominator along the line of scrimmage like Seymour and Henderson were throughout their careers, but it’s far from a sure bet that Hageman ever reaches that potential.
Hageman has had several run-ins with authority figures, including the law due to his renown temper. One of the reasons why he’s got intriguing upside is because of his athletic potential coupled with that sort of anger. If it can be honed and directed on the field, it could give him the sort of edge needed to dominate opposing players. But there have been many instances in his life where the anger has consumed him both off the field and on the field. The latter has led to comparisons to Ndamukong Suh, but Hageman is not nearly as polished. That polish allowed Suh to get away with the negative plays due to the vast number of positive ones. The same cannot be said of Hageman as things currently stand.
Hageman has also dealt with learning disabilities and subsequent academic issues his entire life, which makes one question how quick a study he can be. He still has a lot to learn in order to translate to the next level. He has to learn how to use his hands to disengage from blockers at the next level, or he’ll be unable to make plays. He was able to get by in college because of his strength alone, but his lack of technique and inability to use his hands makes him undisciplined and inconsistent, prone to disappear for long stretches of games. At the next level with bigger, stronger starting guards and tackles, he won’t be able to win solely off strength alone.
Because of this lack of technique and polish, the team that drafts Hageman will need to be patient with his development. He’s not a player that is going to hit the ground running in the NFL, although he certainly has the natural, raw ability to flash from time to time.
Every draft seems to have a player similar to Hageman who possesses relative size/physical tools, but is raw and unpolished and has either a questionable motor and/or production at the collegiate level. Recent examples include Kawann Short, Michael Brockers and Cameron Heyward. It dates back even to players like Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher, and Albert Haynesworth.
Like the more recent examples in Short and Brockers, Hageman would likely benefit from being a situational or rotational player initially in his career.
Ultimately, Hageman is likely to be known more for his run-stopping ability than pass-rushing potential. While he possesses upside in the latter, as he’s able to collapse the pocket and power-rush off the edge, he doesn’t have the sort of burst and quickness to think he’ll be able to garner reliable production at the next level. While he has the potential to be a six-to-eight-sack guy, he’s much more likely to hover in the three-to-five-sack range even if he fully develops.
Hageman might be best served bulking up even further. Due to the comparisons with Henderson, a player that eventually was listed at 335 pounds at the end of his career, there is growth potential for Hageman. Because he’s so reliant on his power and strength to win, it would make sense to try and get him to maximize that even further in an NFL weight room. Another 10-15 pounds of muscle would certainly not hurt him, and since he lacks ideal range, it should not slow him down significantly.
To maximize his pass-rush potential, Hageman probably makes the quickest impact playing as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. At Minnesota, he was much more consistent when it came to beating blockers and pressuring the quarterback when rushing from that position. He was moved around quite a bit at Minnesota, but spent the majority of his time playing inside in either a one, two, or three technique against centers and guards. That potentially hurt his production, because his length was often negated inside against shorter guards that could get leverage (i.e. “low man wins”). It also meant that he faced a lot more double teams, which he struggled to win against. Playing outside against longer tackles at the NFL level, should benefit Hageman, particularly when it comes to pressuring the quarterback.
He has the versatility to play multiple techniques, giving his team some flexibility in their fronts, although he probably won’t be as effective if asked to play inside extensively.
In terms of his a player comparison, a good one is former Seattle Seahawk Red Bryant in terms of his potential and value. In a four-man front, Hageman might be best served playing outside as a two-down run-stopping defensive end that trying to be a force inside. Like Bryant, Hageman may ultimately only find a home as a rotational player rather than the dominator he has the potential to be. If he doesn’t reach his potential, he’ll still be able to find a role as such a two-down starter. Like Bryant, you could imagine him being the guy that is pulled off the field in favor of a Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril-esque pass-rush specialist. But given his lofty potential, like Bryant, he’ll likely be afforded more pass-rush opportunities early in his career than his play/production probably will deserve.
Hageman is an interesting pick by the Falcons. He doesn’t normally check a lot of the boxes that they normally target in terms of prospect, as he’s a high ceiling, low floor sort that Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has generally shied away from over the past six years.
I imagine one of the reasons why the Falcons were attracted to Hageman specifically was due to their infatuation with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, as he and Hageman are two peas in a pod. While Hageman is not nearly the athletic freak that Clowney is, he does represent the sort of imposing physical specimen that the Falcons sorely lack on the defensive side of the ball. The team simply doesn’t have that many guys that look great coming off the bus.
It’s also interesting that the Falcons are surrounding Hageman with Jonathan Babineaux, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, all of whom were late-bloomers as NFL players.
Hageman too is likely to also take time, potentially the better part of three seasons, before he develops and can be expected to reliably impact. It will be interesting to see if the presences of Babineaux, Soliai and Jackson, who have all been through it, will speed up his development.
The biggest obstacle for defensive line coach Bryan Cox will be teaching Hageman how to use his hands. And he’s so raw there, that he draws comparisons to former first-round Falcon bust Jamaal Anderson. Anderson took the better part of three seasons before he developed the sort of “violent hands” necessarily to disengage from blocks. And even then, it only made him a competent rotational player rather than the impact edge-rusher the team had originally envisioned.
I believe the Anderson comparison is a fair one from an on-field player standpoint, although everything I’ve read about the two guys couldn’t make them more different off the field. And that will be another key for Cox, which is trying to hone the “edge” that Hageman has and direct it at opposing blockers, ballcarriers, and quarterbacks. Cox was considered a similar “sharp-edged” player during his NFL playing days as a linebacker, which may make him a worthwhile mentor for Hageman.
The team took a risk in 2009 by drafting injury-prone Peria Jerry, and he did not do much. In 2007, it was the super raw Anderson that failed to pan out. You can even go back to the lackadaisical Chad Lavalais in 2004, as another example of the team rolling the dice and hoping that a defensive lineman would get his act together in the pros and it failing to come to fruition.
These past “failures” naturally leave me a bit skeptical on whether I believe Hageman will prove to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to the Falcons developing rawer talents.
If he develops, he’ll become a building block for the Falcons front line for several years to come. Hageman will become the player that draws double teams and frees up other teammates to make plays.
Otherwise, he might just become another in a long line of higher round defensive line picks that have ultimately turned into nothing more than backups and journeymen.
Ultimately, there’s a good chance that Hageman just winds up being Jamaal Anderson v2.0: a player that is a solid run defender and rotational player, but never quite lives up to the expectations of his draft status. Fortunately for Hageman, being a second-round pick won’t draw quite as much ire and consternation as Anderson did as a former top 10 selection.
Ultimately it’s Hageman’s poor hands that lead me to be pessimistic about his future. His hand technique is just non-existent at this point, and it will take time for him to be coached up. And by the time he is, similar to Anderson, it will be far too late in the eyes of the fan base, who expected him to be the “next big thing.”
If that is the case, it won’t mean that Hageman is a bust as he can still contribute if properly used by the Falcons coaching staff. He can still bring a lot of value on run downs and develop into one of the better run-stopping ends in the league. But it will just put more pressure on the team to create pressure with their edge-rushers.
However there is certainly the chance that Hageman does develop along a path similar to John Henderson and a couple of seasons down the line is considered one of the more formidable every-down players in the league. Henderson was never a sack-artist (29 sacks in 10 seasons), but could create some pressure by collapsing the pocket.
Again, the only relatively safe bet is that Hageman can help beef up the run support. He should become a decent to effective pass-rusher, although the chances that he becomes an impact pass-rusher are slim. Thus it’s unlikely that Hageman will be the guy along the Falcons front in the future, but like Bryant, could become a key role player for years to come.