If Ra'Shede Hageman were an NFL talent evaluator, what would he tell Ra'Shede Hageman about his play as a defensive tackle?
Not ready, kid. Good but not great. Stay in school.
"I feel like I'm not fully ready to take that next step," the fourth-year junior said. "Five sacks is OK, but I feel like I can do a lot better, especially in the running game. My pad level [needs work], so I can stop the run. And going full speed every play, too."
Hageman apparently has listened to his own advice, because he said Saturday he plans to return to Minnesota in 2013 for his senior season, bypassing the NFL's early-entry process.
"I feel like I need to get one more year under my belt. I look at myself -- I did OK, in my opinion, but I've definitely got a lot of things to improve on," said Hageman, who discussed his future with his parents and coaches before making his decision. "Getting another year means I've got another spring ball to work hard, get a little bit stronger, so I can be a dominant player in the Big Ten."
He's got one other reason, too, one that he admits he would have laughed at five years ago.
"Most kids come out early without a degree. I have one more year, so I might as well take advantage of that to graduate. That was definitely important," said Hageman, who once was suspended for not taking academics seriously but now is closing in on a bachelor's degree in youth studies.
"Five years ago, I was a knucklehead. I really didn't care [about academics]. But in my five years here, I've definitely matured."
It hasn't been easy, considering how hard it was for the Gopher to settle on a position. Hageman was an all-state tight end at Washburn High, but after a redshirt season in which he grew to nearly 300 pounds, he was switched to defensive end. When Jerry Kill arrived at Minnesota, Hageman became a defensive tackle, and finally became a full-time player this season. His five sacks earned him honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team.
His 6-5 frame, good speed and athleticism make him a likely future pro -- but where he gets drafted matters a lot. Last season, for instance, Christo Bilukidi, a defensive tackle from Georgia State, was taken by Oakland midway through the sixth round, and signed a four-year non-guaranteed contract worth $2.2 million, including a $100,000 signing bonus. But Kendall Reyes, a UConn defensive lineman, went to San Diego in the middle of the second round, and the payoff was much higher: a four-year deal worth $4.4 million, with a $1.4 million bonus.
Next spring's draft is flush with defensive linemen. ESPN analyst Todd McShay projects 14 defensive linemen to be taken in the first round alone, pushing him further down the list.
Hageman intends, after the Gophers' bowl game, to utilize the NCAA's process of soliciting opinions from NFL scouts about where he will be taken, and Kill has been in touch with former players and pro contacts for advice. But he and his staff agree that, unless his chances of being drafted early are better than they realize, another season of experience will help him.
"He can consistently learn to play with a lower pad level. He's still got some work to do with his hands. ... Just little things like that. He has all the athletic ability. He just hasn't played a lot," said defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys.
But Hageman is versatile enough to play inside on a 4-3 defense, or become a pass-rushing end in a 3-4 system, Claeys said, adding to his value.
"I'd be very surprised if he's not" an NFL player.