The Atlanta Falcons are sure to take a close look at a number of top prospects before the May 8 NFL draft, including players they've already seen up close recently.
Last week, they conducted a private workout with Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman, according to league source. Hageman was on the North team coached by the Falcons at this year's Senior Bowl. He spent a lot of time with new Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox.
During the Senior Bowl week, Falcons head coach Mike Smith raved about how Hageman had the talent to play in any defensive scheme. With the Falcons moving toward a 3-4-based setup, Hageman could project as a defensive end in such a system. Some experts say he's too tall, a 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.
Whatever the case, Cox certainly took an interest in Hageman at the Senior Bowl. At one point, he rode Hageman about running behind for a meeting with a team. Cox's tough love symbolized the potential he sees in the talented linemen.
Hageman, who has drawn comparisons to John Henderson, has been projected as a late first- or early second-round pick. The Falcons seem destined to address their need for either an offensive tackle or pass rusher if they keep the sixth overall pick. They own the fifth pick (37th overall) in the second round. It makes you wonder if they might consider Hageman if he's still on the board by then, although safety is likely to be a more pressing need if one doesn't fall out of the sky soon.
Getting bigger and tougher up front has been the Falcons' theme this offseason. On the defensive side, it meant the additions of nose tackle Paul Soliai and run-stuffing defensive end Tyson Jackson. If Corey Peters isn't recovered from an Achilles' injury by the start of the season, the Falcons could need another young body up front at the other defensive end spot.
Hageman, a converted tight end, still is viewed as a raw talent although he'll enter the league as a 24-year-old rookie. Skeptics say he gets stood up too many times at the line of scrimmage.
Hageman comes from a rough background, having bounced around foster homes before being adopted, as detailed in this excellent piece written by ESPN's Adam Rittenberg.