Second Year Spotlight: NFC South

Ra’Shede Hageman – DT – Atlanta Falcons Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, there were many draft analysts who felt that Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman was a lock first rounder. Looking at his natural physical traits, he very well could have been. It was because of his inconsistent play on tape, that he dropped into the early part of the second round where the Falcons grabbed him with the 37th selection. To say that the overall play of Hageman was disappointing may be an understatement. He finished the season with only 16 total tackles and 1.0 sacks. Coming into this season and playing in a new scheme, things are looking up for Hageman. Dan Quinn’s multiple 4-3 scheme fits Hageman’s traits much better. Hageman is an attacking defensive tackle, and in this scheme, that’s what they ask the tackles to do, Right now, Hageman is listed as the third defensive tackle on the depth chart, but I fully expect that he will get a lot of playtime backing up Jonathan Babineaux and Paul Soliai. He may even get some reps at defensive end as Tyson Jackson may not have the quickness and explosiveness that Quinn looks for. One thing is certain, when Hageman wants to play, he can be a dominating defensive lineman. He is strong, quick, fast, and explosive. Now he just has to turn all that natural ability into production. Kony Ealy – DE – Carolina Panthers Just as Hageman’s rookie season was looked at as a disappointment, the same can be said for Carolina’s second round pick last year Kony Ealy. Coming out of college, Ealy had dominant pass rushing ability to go along with good, but not great, run defense. Early in the season, that didn’t show, but Ealy did come on in the last month, with three sacks in the final three regular season games. Ealy also had four total tackles in the Panthers two playoff games. This year, the battle for the right defensive end spot in the Panthers defense will be between Ealy and two third year players, Wes Horton and Frank Alexander. All have the traits to play the position well, but Ealy is the most natural of the three. We could even see one of these players move inside in nickel situations to upgrade the inside pass rush. If Ealy can display the type of work he did in college, the Panthers will have found the guy to replace Greg Hardy, and he might even have a better overall game. Brandin Cooks – WR – New Orleans Saints Many people, including myself, felt that when the Saints drafted Brandin Cooks in the first round last year he was an ideal fit. While Cooks had a fairly good rookie year with 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns, he was not the dynamic playmaker we thought he would be. With Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham gone, Cooks has to step up this season and be a playmaker. He has the required skills, with his speed, hands and run after catch ability. Now he just has to put it all together. While we have seen rookie receivers play very well of late, most still need a year to acclimate themselves to the NFL game. Hopefully this will be the case with Cooks, who is fully capable of a 75-80 catch season, 8-10 touchdowns and an increase in his average to about 15 to 16 yards per catch. If that happens, New Orleans will have the explosive player they thought they were drafting. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – TE – Tampa Bay Buccaneers If it wasn’t for a foot injury that prevented Seferian-Jenkins from doing much as far as pre-draft workouts last year, he very well could have been drafted in the later part of the first round. Still, he went with the 6th pick of the second round and had a strong rookie season. My feeling is that he has only begun to scratch the surface of his rare talent. Seferian-Jenkins has the size, speed, athleticism and overall skill set to be a Gronk-like tight end in the NFL. There are some tight ends who are really just big wide receivers, while there are others who are predominantly blockers, but few can do both at an elite level. Seferian-Jenkins has the skill set to be a dominant receiver and blocker, and if he reaches that potential, he will be one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Pairing Seferian-Jenkins with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson gives the Bucs a receiving trio that compares with the top groups in the league. That will make rookie quarterback Jameis Winston's job much easier. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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