NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
In the coming weeks and months leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, NEPatriotsDraft.com will profile college prospects that potentially fit the needs and draft seating of the New England Patriots. In this fifth installment, we will take a closer look at the film behind Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.
What Ra’Shede Hageman has overcome in his 23 years far exceeds any cut or trap block.
The battles he’s overcome far exceed the game of football, as author and SBNation.com contributor John Rosengren illustrated in a moving piece this November.
Born Ra’Shede Knox on Aug. 8, 1990, his biological mother was an addict; his biological father passed on before he got to know him. He and his younger brother were placed in foster care four years later, while his older brother followed a different path. And after living in handfuls of homes, it wasn’t until 1998 that Ra’Shede finally found a permanent one with attorneys Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle.
Adoption wasn’t the end of his adversity, though. It wasn’t the end of his struggle to fit in. It was, however, a new starting point. Many hurdles have tested Hageman since then, but the past has failed to define him; it has only defined his strength.
And for the 6’6”, 311-pound defensive tackle, that strength has turned into force on the football field.
Upon improving his high school grades and ACT scores, the Minneapolis native was able to enroll on scholarship at the University of Minnesota in 2009. A basketball standout for the Washburn Millers, Hageman also received a walk-on offer from Golden Gophers head basketball coach Tubby Smith – an offer he would ultimately decline.
The acclimation kept him busy; the highly-ranked tight end soon converted to defensive end and redshirted his freshman season. In 2010, he played in his first eight collegiate games, making five tackles as a reserve before grades drew his campaign to a close. Then in 2011, under new head coach Jerry Kill, the then-21-year-old was motivated to refocus. He became a father. And he switched to defensive tackle, where he played all 12 games, notched 13 tackles – four for loss – two sacks and a forced fumble.
Hageman encountered a legal setback in the spring of 2012, yet the charges of disorderly conduct were dropped shortly thereafter. And in the aftermath that fall, it began to click. He started all 13 contests and tallied 35 tackles to go with six sacks on his way to recognition as an All-Big Ten honorable mention.
He continued to push forward as a redshirt senior in 2013. He garnered the Carl Eller Award as Minnesota’s defensive lineman of the year; he was named first-team All-Big Ten; he won the Bronko Nagurski Award in result of his 38 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, fumble recovery, interception, eight pass deflections and two blocked kicks.
Now Hageman’s journey has been a long and arduous one. It is a journey that has taken him to first-round NFL draft consideration. And one of the organizations evaluating him sits at pick 29 overall.
Now Hageman may be long gone before Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are on the clock, but there are no givens when it comes to the future. So here is a look back into the flash and subsequent force of No. 99, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
A Rangy, Explosive But Streaky Pass-Rusher
Hageman’s athleticism and length often leave pass protection accounting for the unaccountable. Whether it’s his basketball background, his versatility as a former red-zone target, his driving legs or his 33.75-inch arms, Hageman has found a way to be dominant in disrupting the passing game.
He can do so anywhere from the zero-technique – head over the center – to the seven-technique – shading the offensive tackle. He can do so with a bull rush, a rip move or a swim move. And while he delivered a stifling straight-on punch, he also delivers the lateral agility and closing speed to carve in an out of gaps and chase down the quarterback.
Those traits classify Hageman as an interior pass-rusher.
Nevertheless, he was catching passes five years ago and lining up off the edge three years ago. In recognizance of this, he is not without seams. There are times where his height and technique net adverse effects, as he can arch his back and lose leverage off the snap when tired. There are times when the spin move leaves him vulnerable to a well-timed side block. There are times when his legs halt at the point of attack when he’s faced with double teams. And there are times when his footwork grows distant from his arms, throwing him off balance or onto the turf.
Hageman isn’t the most consistent pass-rusher, but he is quick to break out of the gate. He has violent hands that follow up, bypassing opponents with one-two moves. Conversely, he can win a tug of war with his assignment before disengaging. From there, he can make an impact by breaking down the pocket, batting down the pass, and bringing down the QB.
Bringing down the QB was something Hageman was able to do against Michigan on Nov. 3, 2012.
Quarterback Devin Gardner and the Wolverines offense assembled in an empty-backfield set with a two-tight end wing. Out right stood two receivers prepped for twin posts; out left stood one receiver prepped to block for a flat route from the offline tight end.
And in the middle of Minnesota’s 4-3 defense stood the then-redshirt junior at the one-technique.
As Gardner handled the snap and awaited the progression of his primary read, Hageman went to work against 6’5”, 308-pound center Elliott Mealer.
With the right guard uncovered and the left guard shifting towards the near hash, Hageman jumped off the ball straight towards his man.
He lifted and struck his right arm around Mealer’s strong-side shoulder, long before the center could counter.
He then propelled through it. Hageman’s sudden first step and lean disconnected Meeler from the block.
It opened a doorway. The defensive tackle thrust his arms behind the back of occupied left guard Ricky Barnum. This sped up the process of setting No. 12 in his sights.
As Hageman carved rightward and sprinted towards the passer, Mealer fought back in to deter. In doing so, the center had caught and arm underneath Hageman’s pads. But he could not trap Hageman’s arms.
Those arms expanded. Gardner’s pocket shrunk.
With no room to step into a throw, Gardner was flushed from the tackle box. Hageman zeroed in with his arms extended.
He wrapped up the 6’4”, 203-pound ex-wide receiver, and then he ran through him.
From snap to sack, the nine-yard loss consumed less than three seconds.
When his hips stay low and his extremities stay active, the rest takes care of itself. Few blockers can take care of him.
A Powerful, Downhill Run-Stopper When Focused
Hageman has the tools to be a three-down player, even a four-down player. And although he’s not in the stout prototype of a run-stuffer, Hageman functions symbiotically with players built in that mold.
His core strength and heavy hands make him a threat to sway run lanes and knock offensive linemen on their back. He knows how to use his mass and acceleration to pancake, regardless of if it’s on a pull block or power run. He can dictate rush lanes and move lead blocks into traffic to slow down running backs. Yet in a different respect, he is also nimble enough sidestep blocks and track down variable plays like the read-option.
One the other side of the coin, there are times when Hageman plays out of control, dropping his eye level and losing sight of the ball-carrier. This seems to be rooted in overextension and stiffness, which can send him stumbling through lanes once he detaches.
In terms of the “lowest man wins” adage, it’s an aspect that carries over in Hageman’s run defense. It works against him, particularly when he shifts upright off the snap or has to cut diagonally into a block. Those movements can get him pushed off the line of scrimmage. In turn, gap integrity is lost and he finds himself away from the ball.
When the switch is flipped, though, Hageman is all over the ball.
That was the case in his final collegiate game, the Texas Bowl, against Syracuse on Dec. 27.
The Orangemen offense dispersed in a four-wide Pistol formation with 5’11”, 226-pound running back Jerome Smith in the backfield. The design’s intensions were an inside-zone run to the 900-yard, 12-touchdown rusher.
This meant the right tackle and left guard were gearing up for the second level, while right guard Nick Robinson was gearing up for a pull into the strong B-gap. And within Minnesota’s 4-3 front, it meant that Hageman would have a one-on-one matchup with 6’2”, 280-pound center Macky MacPherson.
If he could cut into the vacancy left by the guard, he could cut into the rush lane.
Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt took the snap from MacPherson and pivoted for the tailback exchange. Concurrently, Hageman barreled low – with his arms tucked to his chest – into the pull side.
Hageman’s tightly grasped hands left the center fully engaged. But as the D-tackle swiveled, so did MacPherson.
This left the center susceptible on the back side.
Hageman circled around MacPherson, raising his right arm up and out over the center’s helmet.
Just as Smith inherited the football, he pushed off with his right arm to free himself.
Hageman bent back into the foreground, lunging as the rusher planted.
There was no runway to plant and cut into. Hageman wingspan clamped Smith behind the line, instead.
After eclipsing his block with length, quickness and hand use, Hageman then eclipsed the back with muscle.
The three-yard loss expended two seconds of game clock.
While he is better known for the pressure he brings on passing downs, it doesn’t take long to realize that Hageman is more than a one-dimensional player.
He has the potential to be an every-down player; it’s about harnessing it.
In both phases of the game, Hageman plays with versatility and ferocity.
He will get tired; he will lose leverage; he will lose control; he will fall down. Yet he will overpower as well. And based on what he’s been through and come out of, there’s reason to believe Hageman will continue to overpower the odds against him.
There’s reason to believe he will be a first-day selection this May. Not for what he was or currently is, but for what he could become.