Ra'Shede Hageman quietly, almost invisibly improved last season by leaps and bounds. It was only after the season, when we collectively were able to lean back and take in the team's efforts in 2016, that the flashes he had throughout the year came to signify the kind of improvement we've all been hoping for.
Whether you're a big believer in Pro Football Focus or not, there's little point in denying that Hageman's motor seems to be running more consistently, and he's been turning his obvious strength and natural talent into more consistent performance. The Falcons signed Dontari Poe this offseason, which obviously caps Hageman's upside on this defense, but he's got a role and should have plenty of playing time in a rotation-happy defense. He's played some end, which certainly helps his case.
This also happens to be a vital year for Hageman. He's a free agent after the season, and the former second rounder is either going to want a long-term deal from Atlanta or another team, one that he'll undoubtedly hope is fairly lucrative. He doesn't have a rich history of production to point to, but Hageman does have his talent, and I doubt he'll lack for suitors if he makes it to the open market. The Falcons need to decide if Hageman's worth bringing back, but even with the limited opportunities coming up in 2017, I think he's got a good case.
Hageman is not one of Dan Quinn's guys--he was one of the last picks of the Mike Smith era--but he has turned into a useful rotational piece at defensive tackle, and it's fair to argue that he could start if the Falcons had enough bodies at the position to spell him. With Dontari Poe on a one year deal and the team still a little light on defensive tackle depth, I fully anticipate that Hageman will be back in Atlanta on a multi-year deal after 2017, assuming his play remains strong this year. The team isn't in a position to turn away relatively cost-effective, effective defenders, not with so many big contracts being handed out.