As we continue our series of potential 2011 Dallas draftees, we move to the Big 12 Conference, and safety Eric Hagg of Nebraska. The 6-2, 210-pound Hagg was one of the leaders of a Blackshirt unit that finished in the top five nationally in passing yards allowed and defensive passing efficiency, while also ranking in the top 12 in both total and scoring defense. Hagg finished the season with a team-high five interceptions and had 49 tackles, including 39 solo stops, adding a school-record 95-yard punt return for a score, Nebraska's only touchdown in a 20-13 loss to Texas. He was rewarded for his efforts with selections as a first-team All-Big 12 by both the Big 12 coaches and the Associated Press
Perhaps Hagg's most marketable trait is his versatility. In Nebraska's "peso" defense, Hagg played a hybrid safety/linebacker position that took advantage of his excellent range and size. When asked which of his players (including Prince Amukamara) he'd build a defense around, Cornhusker secondary coach Marvin Sanders quickly named Hagg: "Eric is that type of athlete you can do so many things with," Sanders noted, "He can play corner. He can play safety. He can play kind of a linebacker position. So, you can build your team, and if you’re missing something, Eric can fit that position for you." Perhaps because he, in effect, played three positions, Hagg was voted by his teammates as the Huskers Team MVP.
Clearly, Hagg doesn't have the elite skill set of his defensive backfield mate, Amukamara; he's considerably more stiff, can't mirror quick receivers, and possesses only decent speed -- at the Combine, Hagg registered pedestrian 4.66 forty and cone drill (6.73) times. Nevertheless, he tends to be around the ball a lot and makes plays. Here's a highlight video of Hagg's work. Check out the wood he lays on Texas A & M running back Cyrus Gray!
Although I find him a somewhat intriguing candidate, I couldn't find much evidence of other teams interest in Hagg. What might the Dallas brass see in him? After the jump, let's take a look at what the scouts have to say so we can parse out the Cowboys' interest.National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 15th-rated SS; 418th overall
A tall, long-armed defensive back who possesses a strong-looking build and good overall instincts in both the run and pass game. Does a nice job quickly recognizing his run keys, coming up to take on blocks and uses his length well to disengage and make his way toward the football. Played nearly exclusively from the slot this season and routinely was able to overwhelm slot receivers on contact and put himself in position to make plays on the football. Is a solid wrap-up guy, takes good angles and breaks down well. Doesn't generate a ton of snap on contact and isn't a real physical striker but knows how to get his man on the ground.
Is at his best in man coverage when asked to play up near the line and get his strong hands on receivers. Does a nice job using his length to re-route off the line and stick to receivers initially through the play. However, the more space he's asked to play in the less effective he is. Doesn't possess much fluidity in his hips, gets upright on his drop and is really choppy with his footwork. Struggles to really sit into his stance, open up and run. Looks stiff in his transition and doesn't have the initial burst or straight-line speed to turn and run with receivers down the field. Is easy to get behind and doesn't have the type of straight-line speed to make up for a false step. However, he is very savvy, does a nice job working hard from the trail technique, snaps his head around quickly and possesses good ball skills and coordination in coverage. But, I see him having a tough time keeping pace with receivers in coverage at the next level and looks more like a reserve safety only who will need some time to adjust to playing in space and not using his hands/strength to make up for his athletic limitations.
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 27th-rated CB; overall unknown (not in top 99)
Strengths: Has a great frame to match up against both tight ends and tall wideouts. Does a nice job of using his hands to jam receivers and redirect their routes. Is solid in timing his blitzes and consistently puts pressure on quarterbacks. Shows willingness and competitiveness in run support. Consistently attacks the ball in the air and once the ballcarrier has it.
Weaknesses: Is a little stiff in his hips and struggles to adjust and stay with quick receivers. Often allows too much space for receivers to operate and lacks the closing burst to make a play on the ball. If beaten off the line, has a hard time recovering and getting in position to cover effectively. Lacks great speed to match up in man coverage. Is raw as a cornerback and needs work.
Bottom line: Hagg was effective playing nickel cornerback in college but is probably best suited to play outside corner in a cover 2 scheme at the next level. He also has the ability to play both safety positions, which will be a big plus in the NFL. Hagg will be a nice late-round selection because of his versatility. He has the talent to be a backup corner and safety who will make his biggest plays on special teams.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 4th-rated FS; 148th overall
Positives: Very good size and length--has an athletic build with long arms and big hands. Very good straight-line speed, movement skills and coverage ability. Good hip flexibility and body control. Can play over the slot and stay in the hip pocket on crossing routes. Willing in run support and is a secure tackler. Solid character.
Negatives: Could stand to improve functional strength to play off blocks. Does not intimidate physically—not a physical, striking tackler. Inconsistent field leverage. Instincts are a work in progress. Does not always play with confidence or abandon. Average football IQ and is not a secondary leader. Did not look comfortable when tried at cornerback at the Senior Bowl.
Summary: A young, athletic, rangy safety whose length, versatility and coverage skills make him valuable in a passing league, though he is not a natural at the position, having played a hybrid for the Cornhuskers, and could be best-suited to play a mix-and-match third safety role in the pros. Underdeveloped instincts and lack of physicality could be restricting and require patience.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 10th-rated S; overall unknown (not in top 150)
Production: Overall instincts and diagnostic skills are slightly above-average. Can be a half second late finding and reacting to the ball. Also gets caught peeking in the backfield on occasion and is susceptible to play action. However, possesses above-average field awareness. Flashes ability to anticipate route and get early break on the ball. Also does a nice job of passing off and picking up crossers in zone coverage when lined up near the line of scrimmage at the nickel-back position. Does a nice job of coming under control to keep contain and secure sack when asked to blitz off the edge.
Height-Weight-Speed: Possesses good fluidity for his size. Moves easy laterally and will have no issues as a half field defender in the back end. Also appears to have the capability to line up at the point as a center field defender. Balanced with movement skills but has some tightness in hips when asked to make sudden change of direction. Can hold up in man coverage against most TE's but will have limitations against quicker slot receivers. Lacks elite closing burst and will struggle to recover once caught out of position.
Durability: Improved ball skills as a senior. Notched five INT's in 2010 after having just one during previous three seasons. Does a nice job of turning, locating and playing the ball. Shows natural hands and can come down with tough INT outside of frame. Times leaps well and can hold up in jump ball situations.
Position-specific Intangibles: Certainly not a liability but can improve in this department. Is a second late with recognition and getting into sound initial position at times. Also can struggle to disengage from blocks on occasion. However, masks this flaw by wading through traffic well and taking proper angles in pursuit. Can close quickly and make up ground when trailing play. Not a striker but a reliable wrap-up tackler.
Overall Intangibles: Valued special teams contributor as a non-returner. Active in the community service department. Team first mentality and is accountable.
Color me stupid, but I like what I read here. Do I think Hagg would be able to step in and become the starting safety in 2011? No way. But I like the versatility he might bring to a Rob Ryan defense, and find his size, strength and intangibles intriguing enough to slot him in the sixth round, where the Cowboys have pick number 176.
Next up: UCLA FS Rahim Moore