The NFL draft isn’t always a showcase for Gophers players, or for standouts from state schools. Last year, 254 names were called without a Minnesota college represented.
That won’t be the case in 2014. At least three players, with starkly different profiles, will give local football fans something other than the Vikings to watch.
Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and defensive back Brock Vereen, and Concordia (St. Paul) defensive end Zach Moore are expected to be chosen during the three-day draft. Each completed private workouts and visits before having a few days to unwind from that taxing process before finding where they’ll start their NFL stints.
“There are no words you can put into when your name gets called and you’re part of a team,” Hageman said. “That’s what every kid dreams about doing — playing football and finally going to the draft and having your name called.”
The Lock: Ra’Shede Hageman
You’d be hard-pressed to find another 6-6, 310-pound defensive tackle in the draft with Hageman’s ability, and it’s why he’s projected as a first-round pick. He is one of a record 30 prospects invited to New York City for the draft and has a chance to be the first Gophers player picked in the first round since running back Laurence Maroney in 2006, and the first Gophers defensive lineman to go in the first since Aaron Brown in 1966.
Hageman doesn’t want to return to Radio City Music Hall for Day 2 on Friday, but he’s ready for that possibility.
“I’m definitely preparing for the worst, just because,” Hageman said. “I’m not that person just to brag or think I’m going to go in the first round. I’m just soaking up the opportunity to be there. If I happen to go first round, so be it.”
Hageman, a tight end at Minneapolis Washburn who was converted to defense by the Gophers, could slide into the second round because of questions about his work ethic and consistency. Hageman acknowledged these flaws, and said he has been asked about them by NFL teams. He temporarily moved to Milwaukee to train during the draft process and focused on improving his conditioning and mobility.
“These are things I can change and have been working on,” Hageman said. “So when I get that chance, I can definitely prove them wrong and use that to my game. Everybody has flaws, you have to understand. The fact that you can address your flaws and know what your flaws are, that’s taking a step forward to changing them.”
Hageman will be surrounded at his draft table with people that assisted him in achieving this goal. With him will be his parents, Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle, who adopted Ra’Shede after he bounced around in foster care; his younger brother, Xavier; his Washburn coach, Giovan Jenkins; and Gophers coach Jerry Kill.
The All-Big Ten first-team player doesn’t know how he’ll react when he shakes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand.
“I might be emotional, I don’t know,” Hageman said. “Nothing that big has ever happened to me.
“If it wasn’t for my parents and playing sports, I really don’t know where I’d be. Every day you have to be thankful for where you are because there are some friends and teammates with the same opportunities that didn’t take it.”
The Sleeper: Brock Vereen
Vereen was viewed as a Day 3 prospect at the start of the draft process until he aced his biggest test at the NFL combine. The Gophers standout posted the second-fastest 40-yard-dash time for a safety at 4.47 seconds and led all defensive backs with 25 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds.
“When you watch him on tape, his versatility to play safety and then you’ve seen him play some nickel and then, at the end of the season, you seen him play corner … and you see just how smart he is and aware he is when you watch the tape,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said at the Gophers Pro Day on March 3. “And then he goes to the combine and blows out a 40 … that really opened a lot of people’s eyes.”
Vereen’s versatility was his biggest sell until the combine. With his combine numbers, some think he could sneak into the third round. While he wouldn’t disclose which ones, the 6-foot, 200-pounder said he’s had 10 private workouts and/or visits with NFL teams.