Star Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager’s dad is Britt Hager, an All-American middle linebacker at Texas who was a third-round draft choice by the Eagles in 1989 and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career.
So, naturally, Hager’s favorite linebacker to watch is ... Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.
“My dad, the way he played, that’s not how it works nowadays with offenses and stuff,” Hager told a couple of reporters at the Scouting Combine. “My dad was a great player, yes. But in present day, it’d be Kuechly.”
While he might not have the extensive college resume of another former undersized Baylor middle linebacker, Hager did Mike Singletary and his father proud. He overcame an injury-ravaged junior campaign to re-establish his ranking among the top draft-eligible players at his position with a stellar senior campaign.
Hager has a lot of his father’s traits, especially in the weight room, where he boasts a team-best 610-pound squat. Bryce is much faster than his father, as he was timed at an eye-opening 4.49 seconds during Baylor’s 2014 spring junior pro day. His 4.60 clocking at the Scouting Combine was faster than the 4.68 average from the top 10 inside linebacker prospects.
And while he fell far short of his father’s staggering 499 tackles, his 322 total tackles missed Baylor’s Top 10 list by just one tackle. His 202 solo tackles not only placed sixth on the school all-time list but ranked 10th among current NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision performers.
“I feel like anyone has pressure with the name on their back,” Hager said. “You’re representing your family name, so with me growing up, my dad never put pressure on me. Playing football, if you want to play you can play. It’s something I love to do so I’m going to take pride in my name, regardless of if he played football or not.”
The Green Bay Packers’ need at inside linebacker is obvious. Their top three players on last year’s season-opening depth chart — A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore — are no longer with the team. Only Sam Barrington and Clay Matthews played the position last year.
Hager considers himself an every-down defender, thanks to his time in the pass-happy, spread-the-field Big 12 Conference. If that translates to the NFL, he’d be a tremendous asset given the coverage liabilities of the jettisoned trio.
“Yeah, I think I can play downhill (and) I can play in coverage,” Hager said. “With the Big 12 especially, you have really high-tempo offenses, always in space. You have to make tackles in space, so that’s one thing I can bring to the table.”
At Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, Hager was an all-state linebacker and running back. At Baylor, he redshirted in 2010 and served as a backup in 2011. Hager started 10 times in the middle as a sophomore, picking up first-team all-Big 12 honors as he led the team with 124 tackles, a total that included four sacks and 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
The 2013 campaign was a season-long battle with injury woes for the junior. Hager started nine games, ranking third on the squad with 71 tackles before a groin injury shelved him for the final four contests.
When the injury lingered into the offseason, Hager underwent surgery in February 2014, when it was discovered that he had tears in his abdomen and abductor. With the injury behind him, he recorded a team-best 114 tackles as a senior, becoming just the ninth player in school history to lead the team in tackles for more that one season. Even though he received All-American and all-Big 12 honors, he was mysteriously snubbed by the Senior Bowl committee, opting to close out his college career playing in the East-West Shrine Game.
“Quick,” Hager said of his playing style. “I try to be around the ball. I always try to make the tackle. That’s my goal. I always want to be around the ball. When you’re around the ball, good things happen. So give good effort. You can’t coach effort. As long as you give good effort, things are going to happen.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.