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Ra’Shede Hageman is making his case early, but what kind of role might he have?

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Hageman has always had the talent to be a key player, but there’s a lot working against him at the moment.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Ra’Shede Hageman’s signing was one of the surprises of the offseason. Hageman seemed to have worn out his welcome in Atlanta after inconsistent years and particularly a domestic violence arrest, but the Falcons have been keeping tabs on the veteran defensive tackle and apparently believe he’s matured and can still contribute. They signed him knowing he’ll be suspended for the first two games and that their depth chart at defensive tackle, in particular, is among the most crowded on the roster.

It’s early yet, but Hageman is saying and doing everything he needs to in Atlanta’s eyes, including flashing some dominant stretches at OTAs and minicamp.

Here’s a notable note from Will McFadden at the mothership:

One sign of how poised Lindstrom looks is that he held his own against Ra’Shede Hageman on back-to-back plays, which wasn’t something other linemen could say. During one particular 11-on-11 period, Hageman blew his way into the backfield on consecutive plays, showing what type of disruptive force he can be at times.

The Falcons’ defensive line is far from sorting itself out at this point, but if Hageman can string together more plays like the pair he showed today, Atlanta will certainly benefit from his presence on the interior.

Before we get too excited about Hageman, though, it’s worth asking what kind of role he could actually seize upon in 2019. He has always had great stretches where he’s throwing offensive linemen around like ragdolls and crushing quarterbacks, and if he’s found any consistency at all the Falcons will gladly keep him on the roster. Actually finding playing time could be a larger challenge.

Let’s start with the suspension. The Falcons will likely use a roster spot on a position they need a little padding at while Hageman’s serving his suspension—he won’t count against the roster and can’t be with the team during those two weeks—and then they’ll make a cut when they welcome him back in Week 3. That’s no great obstacle if the Falcons think Hageman can help, as they could carry another wide receiver or cornerback as they’re wont to do, or give themselves some leeway at a position where injuries are a concern. Still, they do have to find room for Hageman when that’s over.

Once he’s back, he’s going to be joining what ought to be a crowded depth chart. The Falcons are more or less guaranteed to be carrying:

  • DEs Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, Adrian Clayborn, John Cominsky
  • DTs Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, Deadrin Senat, Tyeler Davison

That would make Hageman the ninth or tenth guy, depending on whether the Falcons sneak on a Mike Bennett or a Chris Odom. Hageman’s opportunities to play in that group will be relatively limited because Jarrett, Crawford and Davison are all headed for major roles at defensive tackle and Takk, Beasley and Clayborn are guaranteed major roles at defensive end. He might be able to steal 10-20 snaps per game initially in that group, assuming Senat and Cominsky stay buried, but it would take stellar play and/or others faltering for him to earn more than that.

In light of that, is it worth keeping Hageman around? I’d argue that if he continues to build on his strong spring, it will be. Hageman’s always done his best work in a handful of plays at a time, and having been away from football for a couple of seasons, his most impactful role is going to be a limited-use wrecking ball in relief of other players. If he’s delivering the best possible version of himself 10-20 times per game, he could be an impactful addition to this defense, and that’s worthy of keeping around as the team’s de facto eighth or ninth defensive lineman, depending on how many looks John Cominsky gets.

We’re a long way away from knowing whether Hageman will actually even make the roster or not, but the early signs are encouraging, and it would be a good thing for the team and the player if he could work his way into the kind of role we’ve outlind above.