Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals are coming off their third consecutive winning season, a feat accomplished just once prior (1975-77) in the franchise's 46 year history, as well as an unprecedented third consecutive playoff berth. Perhaps more impressively, they have improved upon their win total in each of those seasons. Unfortunately, this upward trend has not yet translated into post-season success, with two first round losses to the Texans and a third to the Chargers, the team's lone defeat at Paul Brown Stadium all season.
Much of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of third year QB Andy Dalton, whose inconsistent play has been maddening at times, quite frankly. While the Bengals' defense has risen to become one of the more indominable in the game in recent years, their offense continues to do just enough to lose, particularly when it matters most. In this sense, Dalton has quickly established himself as a modern day Bobby Hebert of sorts; an adequate starting QB and leader ... as long as you're not relying on him to carry your offense. In exacerbating these shortcomings, former OC Jay Gruden has proven to be the non-conservative "mastermind" most inexplicably hoped Carl Smith would become back in the day. In what may very well prove to be a blessing in disguise for Bengals' fans, he has moved on to become the new head coach of the Redskins. Former Raiders' head coach Hue Jackson, a much more run-oriented presence, has been promoted to take his place. With any luck, a simplified playbook will result in fewer game-altering miscues on the Red Rifle's part. Without them, the defense - coupled with the one-two punch of "The Law Firm", BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and electrifying newcomer Giovani Bernard - truly is enough to carry this team deep into the post-season.
As with most teams, there are still a few areas of concern, both in terms of depth and potential improvement over currently projected starters. One such red flag exists along the offensive line, after LT Anthony Collins signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Collins was a reserve who filled in remarkably well for injured starter Andrew Whitworth; so well that Whitworth was subsequently shifted inside to LG, in order to maximize their potential. Unfortunately, no LT with a first round grade remains on the board of our mock draft. This shakes out to practically the same situation the Chiefs were faced with on the prior pick. If you go OL here, you're either reaching for a pure OG or straight up Stretch Armstronging it for a LT. No change in my approach this time around. I'd rather wait to address this particular need, especially after spending a recent first rounder on OG Kevin Zeitler to man the right side. Regardless, Whitworth's versatility in playing both positions ultimately affords me flexibility in making that later round selection.
Cornerback could be the Bengals' most glaring need, at least in terms of quality depth. Gone is nickelback Brandon Ghee to the San Diego Chargers. Leon Hall returns from a season-ending Achilles tear. While it's unclear how effective he'll be as a starter, there wasn't a significant spike in yards surrendered through the air during the games he missed. Both Terence Newman and "The Corner Formerly Known as Pac-Man" are now on the wrong side of 30 years old. Newcomer R.J. Stanford should figure into the mix. As with OG, a 2012 first round pick has already been invested in this position, in the form of Dre Kirkpatrick. Although he hasn't progressed into the starting talent some envisioned, he at least represents both youth and potential. Numerous mock drafts have Cincinnati going in this direction once again, citing it as their weakest link. I'm not going argue that. Instead, I'm going to go the safer route.
In recognizing that the defense is the team's strength, I don't want to waste multiple first round picks on a position as seemingly "boom or bust" as CB. Doing that inevitably allows for digression in more important areas, namely in the trenches. So, while OSU's Bradley Roby might make a lot of sense here, especially with his in-state ties, what happens if he's slow to develop, like Kirkpatrick has been? The same can be said of Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller and TCU's Jason Verrett. Each one of these guys have significant knocks against them, to the point that they're not likely to be immediate impact players. So, if all I'm bound to reap with the 24th overall pick is 2014 depth and youth regardless, I'm going to see to it that it's spent on a position that's more congruent to winning than Joe Blow in a dime package. Are you picking up on what I'm throwing down here?
Last season's starting RDE, Michael Johnson, skipped off into the Florida sunset with Collins. As someone who seldom shies away from reality, I don't mind admitting that we got heinie raped by the Bucs in free agency. Don't worry, those inconsiderate scallywags are going to get what's coming to them on November 30th at Raymond James. Despite the loss, I'm entirely comfortable with Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap as bookends. Each had 7.5 sacks last season and rank right up there among the most underrated DEs in the league, in my opinion. I'm also excited about the return of veteran Robert Geathers and the potential of last year's 2nd round pick, Margus Hunt, a 6'8" 280 lb freak of nature who should get ample playing time, particularly in intermediate range passing situations this season. In light of Johnson's departure, there's clearly a need here and it's not one I'm opposed to addressing early ... there simply isn't much value there in this range. Of those available, Oregon State's Scott Crichton is the 4-3 DE prospect I'm most high on. He's roughly a dozen players down my Big Board. Not far below him, there's a cluster of about 5 or 6 guys I'd be happy with in the late 2nd round, assuming value at one of the aforementioned positions doesn't supersede it.
That brings us to the interior DL. Geno Atkins is arguably the best player at his respective position on the entire Bengals roster, and I say that without A.J. Green having slipped my mind. He is coming off a torn ACL however, so there's at least that element of a potential setback with which to concern ourselves. At NT starts Domata Peko, yet another underrated cog in this orange clad machine of a front seven. Peko's the fat punk Samoan with a flowing squirrel tail for hair, in case you only watch AFC games when nothing else is on TV. Long story short, he's entering his contract season, so his long term future with the team has a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it. With this in mind, I spent a fair amount of time reading up on all of these late first/early second round prospects, weighing out value versus need, and decided that best available 4-3 DT would be the way to go.
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman is that player. First and foremost, he's versatile enough to play both NT and the 3-tech, meaning that if Peko walks, he could potentially step in as a full time starter as early as 2015. In the meantime, he'll serve as a fall back crutch, in case Atkins is not yet 100%. As a NT, he offers a couple of things Peko does not bring to the table. One is height/reach. Hageman is 6'6" 312 lbs and registered a 35.5" vertical leap at the Combine. This could be particularly beneficial in the AFC North, where Ben Roethlisberger (6'5") and Joe Flacco (6'6") represent two of the tallest starting QBs in the league. With Hunt and Hageman in the lineup at the same time, you're talking about the ability to disrupt passing lanes at the line of scrimmage, thereby lessening the need for that top flight CB you're not likely to land regardless.
Of course, that wingspan doesn't magically evaporate when you're facing shorter QBs. Regardless of who the Browns draft to lead their team, you have to believe they're going to be throwing a lot of timing/slant routes to Josh Gordon and (in this mock) Sammy Watkins. Those are both big time YAC threats. The Bengals are also scheduled to play the Denver Broncos and the New Orleans Saints this season, two of the more pass happy offenses in the league. With D-lineman of this size, even if they're not getting interior penetration against a QB like Drew Brees, they can take the Montell Jordan approach of throwing their hands in the ai-yer ... and waving them like they just don't cai-yer. Is that only effective in Friday night games? Great question. I may have to make like Billy Batson and consult the Elders on that one.
As far as penetration goes, Hageman has done a superb job of collapsing the pocket at the collegiate level. Granted, he's not going to be a guy who gets to the QB often himself, but he's extremely athletic for a big man and will occupy his blockers at the point of attack. As long as there's no discernible drop off there, tackling machine Vontaze Burfict will continue to shoot through those gaps and wreak havoc in the backfield. Keep in mind, he and Vincent Rey did this all last season with Devon Still filling in for Atkins. Brandon Thompson, Peko's current backup and the only other DT of note on the roster, placed near the bottom of Pro Football Focus's 2013 DT rankings. The Bengals simply cannot afford a drop off in production here. Their front seven is their lifeblood. Keep those guns fully loaded and you'll seldom have to rely on the ginger cavalry to bail your buttocks out.
One final point of consideration is the off-season departure of DC Mike Zimmer. Paul Guenther takes over for the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and, although a switch to the 3-4 is not likely, having players versatile enough to play both schemes is never a bad thing. Hageman brings that level of versatility to the DL, having both played and excelled at DE in the 3-4 for the Golden Gophers for two seasons. He has been favorably compared to former Patriots' and Raiders' D-lineman Richard Seymour, a seven time Pro Bowler and a potential future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. The biggest knock against Hageman is his leverage skills. Some scouts feel he plays a little too tall in the saddle, thereby allowing superior interior linemen to get up under his pads and move him around, which has led to a certain level of inconsistency in his play. While he has shown flashes of dominance at times, he has also disappeared for stretches. This was the exact same knock on Seymour coming out of Georgia in 2001. That didn't stop him from being selected 6th overall. With the proper professional level coaching, there's little doubt in my mind that Hageman can overcome this fundamental shortcoming in his technique and prove to be an invaluable addition to the Bengals' up front rotation.
Thanks to all the CSC members who participated in this year's community mock draft. Without your help, none of this would be possible.
Below are the complete results from our community mock draft.
Catch up with all of the mock draft selections in our 2014 CSC Community Mock Draft Hub.
|Pick||Team||Selection||Team Representative||Approval Rating|
QB Teddy Bridgewater - Louisville
|2||St. Louis Rams||DE Jadeveon Clowney - South Carolina||Kevin Sean Held||57%|
|3||Jacksonville Jaguars||QB Johnny Manziel - Texas A&M||Alex Swift||59%|
|4||Cleveland Browns||WR Sammy Watkins - Clemson||Shadow Flash||80%|
|5||Oakland Raiders||LB Khalil Mack - Buffalo||Khannar||71%|
|6||Atlanta Falcons||OT Greg Robinson - Auburn||Dave Choate||80%|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||QB Blake Bortles - UCF||russty||31%|
|8||Minnesota Vikings||CB Justin Gilbert - Oklahoma St.||JackMarzullo||50%|
|9||Buffalo Bills||OT Jake Matthews - Texas A&M||Letloosethedogsofwar||88%|
|10||Detroit Lions||WR Mike Evans - Texas A&M||Monkey Poop Battle||49%|
|11||Tennessee Titans||LB Anthony Barr - UCLA||Lostastic||60%|
|12||NY Giants||TE Eric Ebron - UNC||Khannar||78%|
|13||St. Louis Rams||S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix - Alabama||hooahsaint2.0||74%|
|14||Chicago Bears||NT Aaron Donald - Pittsburgh||BlackandGold4ever||82%|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers||NT Louis Nix III - Notre Dame||saintmanumit||36%|
|16||Dallas Cowboys||DE Kony Ealy - Missouri||Ryan Edwards||63%|
|17||Baltimore Ravens||OT Taylor Lewan - Michigan||Tee Word||66%|
|18||NY Jets||CB Darqueze Dennard - Michigan State||Monkey Poop Battle||62%|
|19||Miami Dolphins||OL Zack Martin - Notre Dame||Letloosethedogsofwar||74%|
|20||Arizona Cardinals||QB Derek Carr - Fresno State||Alex Swift||72%|
|21||Green Bay Packers||S Calvin Pryor - Louisville||BlackandGold4ever||81%|
|22||Philadelphia Eagles||WR Marqise Lee - USC||organictallman|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs||WR Brandin Cooks - Oregon St.||coldpizza|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||DT Ra'Shede Hageman - Minnesota||coldpizza|
|25||San Diego Chargers||Lostastic|
|26||Cleveland Browns||Shadow Flash|
|27||New Orleans Saints||Dave Cariello|
|28||Carolina Panthers||Ryan Edwards|
|29||New England Patriots||Shadow Flash|
|30||San Francisco 49ers||saintmanumit|
|31||Denver Broncos||Alex Swift|