The Minnesota Golden Gophers returned to the NFL Draft landscape in a big way. After last year where not a single Gopher was drafted, they come into this season with one of the better defensive linemen in the country in Ra’Shede Hageman. Hageman is an incredibly impressive physical presence that shows the ability to take over football games and completely alter the way offenses run against Minnesota. Even when Hageman is not making the play himself, chances are the opposing offense is running plays in a way to try to keep away from him and let his opponents try to make plays.
In their base defense, Hageman plays defensive tackle but the Gophers also use him as a 5-tech defensive end in some three man fronts to take advantage of his athleticism. It has also put him in position to make plays and show off his tremendous upside.
Hageman’s athleticism is incredibly impressive and he has shown to be an impact defensive lineman but he can still add to his repertoire of moves, increase his stamina, and work to be more consistent with his pad level. The other area where Hageman needs to improve is avoiding taking the easy way out with blocks as well as his ability to read plays, so he avoids taking himself out of plays and creating running lanes. Hageman is still developing but his freakish tools and the fact he is able to fire off of the ball and play, he projects as a first round pick and has an excellent opportunity to be the first defensive tackle off the board.
Vitals & Build
Hageman is listed at 6’6” 311lbs and is incredibly impressive physically. He carries his weight well, possesses remarkable strength, acceleration and quickness. The only thing that stops Hageman is Hageman when he uses bad technique or wears down and gets tired. There are times when Hageman’s strength has a second gear and due to his quickness, he can generate a ton of momentum in a hurry and can be frightening at times. There is nothing to suggest Hageman cannot continue getting stronger, lose a little weight, get more stamina, and maximize what he already has. His motor is good but he does play a ton of snaps and it does wear on him as the game goes into the late stages. Hageman might actually get more of a break in an NFL rotation, so any concerns about his stamina may be solved there, but it is something he is going to continue to work to improve.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Hageman’s snap anticipation can range from being right on the snap to being just half a beat late. For the most part, he does a good job of getting off of the ball quickly and is able to immediately put opponents at a disadvantage.
Hageman’s first step is impressive and he makes a big stride towards the offensive line, regardless of whether he is attacking a gap or going head on at the opponent. For the most part, Hageman appears to approach his first step as if the opponent is not even there or that he simply does not care that they are. Everything he does is about forcing the opponent to adjust to what he is doing rather than the other way around. Regardless of whether he is going against the run or the pass, he is looking to wreak havoc, locate the ball and then make the adjustment.
As he gets tired, he can end up firing out higher and higher out of his stance and at his height, even with his strength, he will run into problems. When he is fresh and going, he fires out at a good pad level relative to his size and that makes a huge difference in how effective he can be.
The first thing that stands out is Hageman’s bull rush. Because he is able to get off the ball so quickly and is agile, he is able to generate a ton of momentum quickly with his size. Combining that with the strength he has, his bull rush can be downright scary. The part that makes it so effective for Hageman is that he then adds in his arm strength into the equation. He gets in to the opponent’s body enough that he can then bench press them to penetrate and he does not stop at one rep, but keeps doing it. The result is if they are able to hold up through the first push, his second one can then throw them out of the way.
He has also shown the ability to get skinny and shoot gaps on occasion to get into the backfield quickly. Hageman just brings that type of explosiveness off of the line and if an opponent does not bring their ‘A’ game to a particular rep, he will catch them napping and get into the backfield.
The one problem Hageman will occasionally run into is doing what offensive linemen want him to do. In other words, he will have a linemen give him a lane to the outside while riding him that way and Hageman will follow it and take himself out of the play. This is still an issue for Hageman and needs to be addressed in the NFL.
Hageman has gotten better with his hand use and his ability to take on and beat blocks. He is able to control opponents when he wants and can then move them out of the way. Hageman can be too impatient with this and bailing too fast, thereby taking himself out of the play.
There are also times where he will get a little too off balance by leaning too far forward and opponents can use it against him and either let him pass the play or ride him into the ground.
Hageman’s impact on the running game largely depends on his momentum. When he plays with a good pad level and gets off the ball well, he is going to demand a double team and he is still going to give opponents all they can handle. Hageman has shown the ability to defeat double teams, should the gap, and use his speed to get to a single block before the double team can get to him.
Hageman can collapse the pocket and have a huge impact on the play. He shoots gaps and get in the backfield, but he will often be too high in these situations and when he does not break down, opponents can run right by him. Hageman does show the ability to stop, locate the ball and go chase down the ball carrier. He is far better at chasing plays down laterally or from behind than he is with the play running at him, because he has the time to adjust to his target. Hageman demonstrates an impressive amount of lateral range and the ability to work down the line and stay with plays, but needs to do so with more consistency.
When Hageman plays with poor leverage, he gets too tall and gets knocked off balance rather easily by double teams. He is still too much to handle for most linemen by themselves but the difference is clear. In this position, his height works against him and while he is still a lot to move, it is easier. The other problem he will run into when he gets tired is occasionally leaning on guys, stopping his feet and ending up too far forward. Hageman has a terrific amount of ability and can be a game changer against the run, but he could be even better and more consistent if he can continue with good leverage and technique throughout the game.
The area that has to improve for Hageman is taking the easy way out of plays. This becomes a huge issue with the run as offensive linemen will give him a direction to go and Hageman too often does it in hopes of getting pressure on the quarterback. The result is too often that Hageman opens a huge running lane because he has left his gap and the defense is not accounting for that spot on the field. Hageman has to get more comfortable with taking on a block, reading where the play is going and then making the determination on what best to do with it, which is rarely going to be going to the outside.
Hageman’s ability to rush the quarterback is mostly based on his speed and agility. He approaches taking on blockers the same way and is looking for the straightest path to get pressure, whether that is up the middle or from a five tech position. As a defensive end, he will flash more in terms of variation. From that position, he will either go straight at them or use speed to the outside before switching to power and the bull rush. And again, it all comes down to momentum, so while the tackle may know exactly what he is doing to do when he is outside and using speed, he still has to find enough strength to stop him and there are times when he makes tackles look like speed bumps.
If Hageman is in a position to chase quarterbacks from behind, he is extremely effective and shows some impressive closing speed. While it is unnatural to tell the quarterback to go towards the oncoming traffic, they will have a better chance matadoring Hageman than outrunning him. Based on his pass rush moves, he does not seem like a threat to get double digit sacks but his athletic ability and sheer strength makes one wonder what he can do, especially if he develops at least another move with his hands to defeat blocks. He is an intimidating player because not only is he quick and able to generate power but he hits with some anger behind it and can be extremely violent.
The best fit for Hageman might be as a tackle in the 4-3. The reality is he can play both nose and the 3-tech and it might ultimately depend on what the other player a team has can do that determines his role. He might be slightly better suited for the nose simply because he of his bull in a china shop nature but his athleticism is intriguing for either spot. It really comes down to what a team wants and that might increase his value. He has the ability to line up in a power set with another nose and really clamp down on the run, but he can certainly provide help in obvious passing situations as part of a smaller, more athletic group.
Hageman will also be extremely attractive to teams that run a 3-4 as a 5-technique end. Because of his length and strength at the point of attack, he can be a dominating run defender in a 2-gap system while maintaining the athleticism to rush the passer from there. In addition, he can kick inside as a rush tackle at times.
In terms of his size and raw athleticism and what he could be in the NFL, Hageman resembles J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. The important difference between Hageman and Watt is Watt has polished the areas of his game where Hageman is still raw. Watt has all of the speed and strength Hageman does, but he uses his hands better, stays in his gaps better and he is able to play more snaps at a high level than Hageman. One of the reasons Hageman is such a big time prospect is because that potential is there for him if he can learn and apply the proper technique.
Ra’Shede Hageman is a freakish athlete, but he possesses the necessarily fundamentals where he should be a successful NFL player. He can bend, play low, and use his strength effectively as a great complement to his athletic ability. The questions with Hageman come down to reading plays, staying in his gaps and continuing to improve his technique as well as his overall stamina. Hageman warrants going in the first round and could be the first defensive tackle on the board, but his reckless style does come with some risks.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com