Hageman tries to catch up to NFL Draft’s other defensive tackles
INDIANAPOLIS — Ra’Shede Hageman’s journey to the NFL began in earnest three years ago.
One of the highest-ranked prep tight ends as a recruit out of Minneapolis Washburn high school, Hageman arrived on the University of Minnesota campus and redshirted in 2009 while making the switch to defensive end.
His transformation wouldn’t be complete until he made one more move, next time sliding over in the defensive line to defensive tackle. The relocation under Gophers coach Jerry Kill in 2011 has brought Hageman to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine.
"I just had to catch up," Hageman said of his mindset in making the move to defensive tackle in 2011. "Obviously there’s a lot of great D-tackles here and I feel like I’m definitely a few steps behind them. I mean, this is my third year playing D-tackle and I’ve obviously got to where I am now just by being athletic and being strong. But I feel like there’s a lot of D-tackles here that have been playing this position for a long time and I feel that I have to catch up."
His path isn’t complete and won’t be until he hears his name called at the NFL Draft in May. The big Minnesota defensive tackle can do some catching up this week at the combine, though, and potentially propel himself into the draft’s first round on May 8.
Throughout his move to defense and along the line, Hageman’s athleticism has been his trademark. The former tight end and prep basketball player has a chance to distinguish himself in the defensive tackle class at the combine, where his physical traits can stand out during the on-field workouts.
"Me, coming into the combine, I feel like I’m an underdog," Hageman said. "I feel like a lot of people don’t think I have the mechanics and just the talent to play D-tackle. Tomorrow on the bench press or just the 40, I definitely have an opportunity to showcase my talent. So I’m definitely looking forward to that."
Hageman’s measurements didn’t change his standing as one of the draft’s best defensive tackles. He weighed in at 310 pounds and is 6-foot-6. But the physical aspect was never Hageman’s issue.
He never got the chance to play tight end at Minnesota, moved to defensive end under former Gophers coach Tim Brewster. But his potential really started to click after Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys moved him to tackle.
As a junior in 2012, he became a full-time starter and jumped from 13 tackles and two sacks in 2011 to 35 tackles and six sacks the next season. As a senior, with the NFL opportunity growing, he was a third-team Associated Press all-American and first-team all-Big Ten selection.
He had 38 tackles, but saw much more attention from opposing offensive lines. He had just two sacks but added 13 tackles for loss. The decrease in production added concerns about consistency and the fear he disappears at times in games.
Those concerns can’t be alleviated by an amazing workout. Hageman said there’s "no question" he can be a three-down lineman in the NFL and he will have to reinforce his belief in interviews with teams this week at the combine.
Hageman believes it’s another area where he’s playing catch-up against the rest of the draft’s defensive tackles.
"I’ve just got to stop thinking," Hageman said. "Me obviously playing D-tackle for three years, I’ve developed flaws. When it comes to that, it’s definitely overthinking. And then when I overthink, I feel like I’m not doing something right; I’m always freezing up. So I feel like once I get a better sense of just educating myself on D-tackle and just what to look for on the O-line, I’ll be able to stop thinking and just play."
Hageman’s consistency could give team’s pause.
His athleticism and potential could land him in the first round.
"I’d be surprised if he’s not a first-round draft pick," Claeys said in December. "I don’t see teams passing on him. After they watch him work out in the combine and you put his highlight tape together of his negative-yardage plays and the plays he’s made back to back, you put that on a tape and you watch it, it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen for a guy his size. I think somebody’s going to get a gem."
Claeys and Kill took him "under their wing" and he learned how to watch film and recognize the offensive and defensive schemes. His development continues.
With his background and athleticism, Hageman touts his versatility and being able to play all along the line. He said he watches Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to learn, saying he appreciates how the two are "strong and disruptive."
Hageman said he couldn’t envision he would be in Indianapolis now without the support of his parents who adopted him 12 years ago.
"I was just blessed to be adopted by just great parents who kind of gave me another opportunity for a childhood, to be able to play sports, use that as an outlet," Hageman said. "That definitely helped me. I was able to trust my struggle and just kept moving forward. I mean, 12 years ago, I definitely wouldn’t have seen this coming."
The vision was probably clouded just a short three years ago, too.
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter