After addressing a glaring need at offensive line in the first round, the Atlanta Falcons decided to draft defense in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. With the 37th overall pick, the Falcons selected former University of Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.
Considered by many to be a first-round caliber talent, Hageman ended up slipping to the Falcons in the second round. While he was taken behind fellow defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley, he certainly is not lacking the talent necessary to have success in the NFL.
In his senior season at Minnesota, Hageman produced an impressive 13 tackles for loss, which included two quarterback sacks. He also showcased playmaking ability and athleticism, recording an interception and eight pass defenses.
The former Golden Gopher stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs 310-pounds, possessing a frame that could be filled out more or trimmed down, depending on whether he is used as a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. This unique combination of size and athleticism is just one of the reasons the Falcons were interested in Hageman.
It is unclear which defensive scheme the Falcons will run this season and in the future, as the team currently runs a 4-3 defense but has discussed switching to a 3-4. It is very possible that Hageman will begin his NFL career as a 4-3 defensive tackle and later become a 3-4 defensive end, depending on what route Falcons coaches decide on. Regardless of what decision is reached, Hageman should be a versatile enough player to adapt to either defensive scheme.
At least for now, Hageman will compete for a starting defensive tackle position. His competition for this position includes Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters as well as 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry. Given the relatively stiff competition and his status as a rookie, Hageman will likely begin his career in a rotational role.
While Hageman was productive in college and has the ideal physical frame to be a defensive tackle in the NFL, he does have issues with his intangibles. In the past he has been suspended for academic reasons, arrested for disorderly conduct and was lucky to survive an early childhood filled with parent-related issues. Scouts have also noted that he gives up on plays if he does not win the initial battle up front and also shows signs of taking plays off.
To date, however, Hageman has not shown any sign of these intangible issues at the Falcons’ OTAs. On the first day of camp he competed with such tenacity in a one-on-one drill with the Falcons’ first-round pick Jake Matthews that head coach Mike Smith was forced to remind the two rookies that it was only the first day of practice. If Hageman continues to bring this type of intensity to practice, the Falcons will have a difficult time keeping him off the field.
Hageman may not be a day-one starter like other rookies in this draft class, but there remains a strong chance that he will make an impact this season. Hageman possesses the frame and defensive line skills to be an NFL starter in the immediate or near future, and the Falcons’ coaches will surely recognize this as the summer progresses.