When the college season ends is when the whispers start. Advertised on Bowl Game stages, players who caught viewers eyes are suddenly launched into NFL mentions: "This kid will be a first round draft pick..." From this point on, the ranks of young players being talked about as possible NFL Draft day prospects begins to swell. Regional NCAA football reporters start to get calls from their network peers; asking for opinions on a certain player. College coaches begin to get calls from NFL scouts, with question lists including everything from a players ability to play the game of football, to off field behavior. Term like "Pro-ready" are mixed with "high caliber individual" for some. Others find out for the first time that what you do one day, can come back to bite them in the butt somewhere down the line. But these two items are just a few that'll be combined to create separation between one draft prospect and another.
It's late March now, and the NFL Scouting Combine is a recent memory; as are most of the college "Pro-Days" at campuses across the country. NFL teams are amassing their draft boards; the highly secretive and subjective rating of different players at any number of positions. Name are moved onto the board and off; up the list, and down...
What drives a scout, coach or general manager to like or dislike a player differs. Off field issues like injuries, DUI-s and scuffles might scare away some, while others will gamble a young player can turn his life around. Let's face it, the whole "bargain priced" thing is a part of it too. A player with a red-flag or two won't cost a team a first round draft pick - normally. Just ask the Rams' Janoris Jenkins, who was widely believed to be the top corner back in his 2012 class, but off field issues saw his draft day stock plummet.
This year, players have risen or fallen on draft boards like every other season. One of the most intriguing is Ra'Shede Hageman. Depending on who's rating him, he's either a defensive tackle or end. Everything I've read about him says he has first round talent, but one of the most hated terms of all for a college prospect has begun to be attached to young Mr. Hageman: "High Boom or Bust Factor". Not a universally held belief, since he has his proponents too, but they're somewhat dated... My, oh my... How a bit of time changes things, eh?
Hageman has what looks like the prototypical physical skill set to be an NFL player. Yet, as more eyes turned his way throughout the 2013 college football season, slight chinks in his well-muscled armor began to appear. Comments like, "He takes plays off...", and "He seems to disappear at times..." were heard, and now are firmly affixed to the Minnesota star defensive lineman. Once seen as a possible top 10 pick on draft day, many are predicting he could wait to hear his named called until AFTER round two of the NFL Draft? Take my word for it: If he falls to the 3rd round, the bargain hunting/gamblers will be rushing to find a way to select him. Still, his draft stock is falling faster than Zynga after their IPO...
Let's take a peek at Nolan Nawrocki's list of weaknesses for Hageman, courtesy of NFL.com:
Wide gap between physical ability and performance on tape. Green eyes, instincts and understanding of blocking schemes. Motor idles. Too often lets his pads rise and exposes his frame. Does not play to his length. On skates vs. double teams. Hand use needs work. Unsophisticated counters and pass-rush moves. Aimless pass rusher in need of a plan. Minimal, inflated sack production. Still learning to convert speed to power. Does not dominate single blocking. Needs more glass in his diet. Could require simple assignments. Motivation and coach-ability should be examined more closely. Will be 24-year-old rookie. Has a glaring bust factor.
The "green eyes" thing must be code of some kind? Plus, just how does he wear "skates" on grass? Then there's the cruel suggestion Hageman isn't eating enough "glass"? Colorful language used as descriptive-s is a part of NFL vernacular, so when I whip out my "NFL Terminology For Brandon Bate and Other Dummies" I see the "green eyes" thing hints at a certain naivete. "Skates" means he slides away, instead of engaging to overcome double teams and hold his ground. The funny one though is "needs more glass in his diet". It's kind of a back-handed slap at toughness. For the record, slapping anyone who's 6'6", 310 lbs., and has arms long enough to reach across the Grand Canyon, is a bad idea. You'll just have to trust me on this, OK?
In viewing Hageman, I come away with a player who has more "Boom" than "Bust". His physical stature not withstanding, this is a talented prospect. If we look at the footage of Jadeveon Clowney in 2013, unremarkable would be an apt term. The why of it has more to do with how a player handles and adjusts - with his coaches help - to opposing teams who have played against guys like Hageman or Clowney the year before. Offensive coordinators game plan players like Hageman, so if Minnesota's coaching staff doesn't put him in a position to counter these moves, anyone will fail. The same thing happened to Clowney in 2013, and he's still being mentioned as a top draft pick. Plus, Hageman was part of a defense that was wholly unremarkable last season.
The part of scouting a college prospect I find so arbitrary is a "player's motivation". A couple of interviews, and a scout can see so deeply into a player's heart and mind they can make an overall judgement or conclusion as to his life long intent? Really? Hageman is a player I'd set off against the tools he had around him, more than judging any observed inequities of effort on the field. I picked four games at random for Minnesota in 2013, and the ONLY defensive player worthy of remark - for both teams - was Hageman.
Again, in this video we hear doubts about Hageman. But I find it interesting how tempered the narrator is in his judgement. It's like he's hedging his bets? The thing I see in Hageman isn't a so much a guy who gets sealed off or slid down the line at the point of attack, as he is trying to do too much for a suspect defense. I really like his ability to block passes, and he reminds me a bit of Houston's J.J. Watt in this regard. Every flaw noted in the video appears to be coaching based, which at the NFL level can be corrected. His skill set is - to be honest - narrow at this point. In a 3-4 defense, he'd be a right defensive end after he gets his footwork a bit wider. In a 4-3 set, he's a defensive tackle and would be well suited to a team with a elite defensive end to pair with him.
My overall impression of Ra'Shede Hageman is one of a sound, high ceiling prospect. He'll need a talented position coach to grow into what I think can be a Pro-Bowl defensive tackle at the NFL level. If he becomes a rotational guy for a mediocre team, he'll fade into the background. On draft day, I don't see him getting past the middle of the second round. There's going to be a team who'll slide on their gambler shades and take him higher than the Mel Kiper-s of the world think right. If it's me, I'd take him in rounds two and three in a heartbeat...