A year ago fans of the Chicago Bears were sideswiped when their team took a talented but raw guard as their first round pick. Could a repeat be in the works this May?
Hageman is the spitting defensive image of Kyle Long
Back in 2013 the offensive line class was heralded as one of the best in recent memory with a host of tackles and guards expected to go in the top 15. Among that crop was included a relative unknown in the class, a second-generation player out of Oregon named Kyle Long. Having endured some legal troubles early in his college career, the young man rebounded to eventually work his way into the starting lineup at guard for the Ducks. Senior Bowl and combine performances showed a player thick with physical talent but also inexperience and already being 24-years old. Yet, in spite of it all, Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery didn’t blink. He selected the young man with the 20th overall pick in the first round, to the great surprise of fans and experts. The move was questioned and criticized from all angles, but Emery simply stated Long had way too much promise to pass on. Fast forward a few months and the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long reached his first Pro Bowl as a rookie. Safe to say the pick was a success.
Looking ahead now to the 2014 NFL draft and anyone watching closely must be feeling a strong sense of déjà vu. Like a year ago the Bears are in the middle of a massive retooling with their line, only this year it’s the defensive line, a unit that permitted the most rushing yards allowed in franchise history and allow came in dead last in sacks. It was a group long on age and growing weaker in talent. Emery knows his rebuild efforts won’t be completed unless he pulls off a similar success in the draft as he did with Long in 2013. The weird part? A remarkably identical player has emerged.
Ra’Shede Hageman isn’t getting much attention among the draft experts of late. A defensive tackle out of Minnesota, he had a fairly good but not overwhelming 2013 season. He hasn’t played the position for very long, just since he entered college and he’s already 24-years old. Also like Long scouts agree he is one of the best physical specimens they’ve seen at the position in awhile. At 6’6″, 310 lbs he has all the size and length in the world coupled with impressive speed, power, quickness and explosion. He flashed dominance during games but still looks inconsistent, not yet congniscant of how to fully utilize his immense skill set. That is why teams remain wary of taking him high in the draft.
Phil Emery shows he never fears getting “his” guy in the NFL draft
Not that such a thing would scare Phil Emery. Chicago Bears fans have learned that the enigmatic general manager has no fear going after players he wants, whether they might be reaches or otherwise. He traded for Brandon Marshall despite his history of off-the-field problems, then traded up for Alshon Jeffery despite constant talk of his having weight problems at South Carolina. Emery believes that with good coaches and team leadership around them, talented athletes can become talented football players. Jeffery and Long are two excellent examples. If the same can come true for Ra’Shede Hageman, than the fans will find it very easy to forget Henry Melton.