It’s puzzling that the Texas Longhorns did not make an effort to recruit a “legacy” when Bryce Hager was a senior in high school. The son of Texas All-American linebacker Britt Hager, who went on to star for Philadelphia, the younger Hager was only a two-star recruit, but blessed with 4.51 speed when the Baylor Bears secured his services. In his first season as a starter, he made 124 tackles with four sacks and 9.5 stops-for-loss in 2012, but he missed the final four games of the 2013 schedule with a groin injury, finishing last season with 71 hits.
More abdomen problems kept the middle linebacker on the sidelines during 2014 spring camp, but he was fully recovered by the season opener, starting every game, as the All-Big Twelve Conference choice led the Bears with 114 tackles, adding two sacks, 12.0 stops for loss while returning his only career interception 36 yards. In 48 games at Baylor, he totaled 322 tackles (202 solos), seven sacks, 24.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage 25 quarterback pressures and five forced fumbles.
Hager is the strongest player on the team, boasting a 610-pound squat in recent workouts. And that strength shines through on every play. Along with his speed, few middle linebackers are as strong at the point as he is. Hager leverages blockers well with his hands and shows explosion on contact. He uses his hands with force to stack and control double teams.
Hager is a punishing tackler who hits with a thud and does a good job of wrapping the ball carrier. The thing I like about him is that he will do whatever it takes to bring his opponent down (trip, wrestle, grab, etc.). When he gets a clear shot, the runner or quarterback will go down when Hager makes contact. He is a highly efficient tackler playing inside the box.
Hager stays low in his pads and has an explosive burst to gain advantage and shoot the gaps. He takes on lead blocks with force, but needs to be more active with his hands in order to shed. He has a good straight-line burst to get to the outside and shows good urgency in his play, taking proper pursuit angles to get to the corner.
The Baylor senior reacts instantly once he locates the ball and is quick to fill the inside rush lanes. You wish he would be stouter vs. the bigger isolated blockers, but he has the hand usage to defeat high and low blocks when working in space. He reacts and pursues with great effort, showing the ability to break down and contain inside run plays. He is also a hard face-up tackler who can stuff fullbacks in the rush lanes.
Hager has a low center of gravity that helps him stay low in his pads to drive runners back into the holes and shows classic wrap up technique to secure and drag down. He has above average quickness to stay with backs on wheel routes and cover slot receivers working underneath. He just lacks the natural hands to make the interception and needs to show better anticipation skills, as he fails to get proper elevation to deflect balls at its high point.
The senior can be a disruptive inside blitzer, as he has the burst to push the pocket. He does a good job of squeezing through tight quarters and avoiding blocks in his backside pursuit. He is a highly instinctive player with a good feel for sniffing out blocking schemes and has the straight-line charge to push guards and centers back into the pocket.
Hager has the hand placement quickness to keep blockers off his body and the strength to stack and control. However, when he gets his base too narrow, the bigger offensive line-men can get underneath and neutralize him. He does a nice job of slipping off blocks to apply pocket pressure as a blitzer, but is better when attacking the inside lanes than coming off the edge.
Bryce Hager NFL Scouting Combine measurables
6-1/238 (4.60 forty)
31 3/8-inch arm length
35-inch vertical jump
117-inch broad jump
7.15 3 cone drill
4.36 20 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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