Big Ten football is known for its physicality in the trenches. Rather than boasting more agile and athleticism with its defensive and offensive lineman, like the SEC, the Midwestern boys are big and bulky, bulldozing you with sheer force play after play, game after game. Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman fits the criteria of the aforementioned attributes, and they will certainly translate to the NFL next season and beyond.
Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson was surprisingly active this past offseason, especially along the defensive line. He signed former Pro Bowler Julius Peppers to man the pass-rush position opposite of Clay Matthews. To shore up the middle in an attempt to build upon the unit’s league-worst 5.6 yards per carry average in 2013, he signed Letroy Guion from the Minnesota Vikings and re-signed B.J. Raji, both being one-year deals. Guion isn’t a starter, but he’s a guy who can take up space and be effective. On the other hand, Raji’s NFL stock has hit rock bottom, recording zero total sacks the past two seasons.
Combined together, both offseason acquisitions are a quick fix to tighten down the water pipes of the defensive lineman, but what Thompson’s move equates to is putting duck tape on the problem. Drafting Hageman would ultimately be a step in the right direction for repairing the leak.
From the time he made the short drive from his hometown of Minneapolis to the Minnesota campus, Hageman’s stats have steadily improved from year to year. Playing as a redshirt freshman, the Washburn High School product appeared in eight games, posting five tackles. In the three successive years after, he was an absolute machine at the line of scrimmage, averaging 29 tackles per year, eight tackles for loss and three sacks.
While his sacks dipped from six sacks to two during his senior season, his presence in opposing backfields was especially paramount, registering 13.0 tackles for loss. For his efforts, Hageman earned the nod of the coaches and media with a spot on the All-Big Ten first team and also added third-team All-American honors.
Standing at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, Hageman poses a solid stature to battle against mammoth NFL offensive linemen. In the team’s 20-7 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, he faced off against an offensive line that is the closest mirror of the unit he will face at the next level, and the defensive tackle’s play was largely hot and cold.
Hageman only posted three solo tackles, but what stood out is his versatility amongst the line of scrimmage. He lined up over center Dan Voltz, and both guards Kyle Costigan and Ryan Groy, penetrating into the backfield on multiple occasions. In his one-on-one matchup with Costigan, he had his way with the right guard. He had a solid push from the initial onset and kept his legs churning, maintaining a low center of gravity in the process.
Matched up with left guard Ryan Groy, he produced mixed success, but his major weakness in this matchup was the fact that he overran a lot of plays. He could use his brute strength to get past Groy, but he wasn’t disciplined in the hole and was eventually left in the dust by running backs James White and Melvin Gordon.
Finally, either straight up against Voltz or when he helped down on Hageman, No. 99 really struggled. In particular, on the first play from scrimmage for the Wisconsin offense, Hageman was lined up at the nose guard position and got to the play on the left side of the field, only needing to push aside Voltz to get to White. Yet, Voltz kept engaging inside the shoulder pads and pushed him off to the wayside enough for White to cut back to the wide side of the field and break open a 49-yard run to Minnesota’s 12-yard line.
The jury has yielded mixed remarks, slotting him in mock drafts anywhere from the top 15 to the end of the first round. Still, the Packers need to seriously ponder the potential of Hageman being a building block for the team’s front line.