The Vertical a Big Part of Hageman’s Game

During Ra’Shede Hageman’s teleconference with the Atlanta media shortly after he was selected with the Falcons’ second-round pick Friday night, he cracked an upexpected joke, but a revealing one about the nature of his game as he prepares to enter the NFL.

A converted tight end (the top at his position in the country in high school), Hageman switched to defense once he arrived at Minnesota and that’s not all that he changed. He also stopped playing basketball, but said Friday that he loved basketball and if he were wearing the right shoes, he’d show everyone on the call his vertical jump.

At the NFL Combine, Hageman’s vertical measured at 35.5 inches, which is pretty high for anyone, but certainly high for a 6-foot-6, 310-pound individual. Hageman said that kind of vertical ability has helped him hone other aspects of his game outside of just rushing the passer.

“My junior year in college, I definitely got more sacks and then last year, I had to find another way to make plays,” Hageman said. “Me batting down balls was just the same as getting sacks. I’m definitely going to use my vertical to my advantage to swat down balls.”

Batting balls at the line of scrimmage is a specialty of Houston Texans lineman J.J. Watt, one of the premier defensive players in the NFL. Hageman said he admires Watt’s game and patterns some of his own after him. He also added that Lions DT Ndamukong Suh is another inspiration.

“If you put them together, that’s what I’m trying to be like,” Hageman said. “I’m trying to be a combination of both of those.”

Blessed with as much athletic ability as anyone in the draft, all tucked inside a huge body, Hageman said he’s still learning and will continue to adjust to the NFL, but his time with Falcons D-line coach Bryan Cox during the Senior Bowl was extremely beneficial in helping him transition.

“I definitely learned a lot from coach Cox because he played at the professional level,” Hageman said. “It’s easy for me to understand what he’s talking about because he played my position and played NFL football. It was definitely a a big step from college football and college teaching to the whole NFL teaching. It’s a lot more serious and a lot more important.”