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Scouting Jets linebacker Bryce Hager

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week the Jets added linebacker Bryce Hager to their active roster after he was elevated from the practice squad to play special teams for them in the last two games. Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.

The 28-year old is listed at 6’1” and 237 pounds and was a seventh round pick out of Baylor in 2015. Hager has mostly been a special teamer during his career but has started five games at linebacker for the Rams, including four last season. He has 48 tackles, three passes defensed and four quarterback hits in his career.

Background

Hager, whose father was a nine-year NFL veteran, played running back and linebacker in high school and was originally going to walk on at Texas before being offered a scholarship to Baylor and redshirting his freshman year.

In 2011, he mostly played on special teams, recording eight tackles and a forced fumble, but then he became a three-year starter and was an all-Big 12 second-teamer in each of those three years.

Hager led the Big 12 in tackles with 124 in 2012 and also racked up a career-high with four sacks. In 2013, he had another good season and scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 91-yard fumble return, but missed the last month due to injury. Then in his senior year he racked up 114 more tackles and a career-best 12 tackles for loss.

After playing in the East West Shrine Game and attending the scouting combine, Hager was drafted by the Rams in the seventh round with the pick they had acquired from the Jets for running back Zac Stacy.

Hager was mostly a special teamer during his first four seasons, although he did see occasional rotational work on defense and started the final game of the 2018 season. Last year, he actually started four of the first five games, albeit that he was still in a rotational role. However, he suffered a season-ending injury and missed the last 11 games.

After a two-week stop with the Raiders in training camp, Hager was added to the Jets’ practice squad and he’s been elevated to the gameday roster for each of the last two games. The Jets added him to the active roster this week, having traded Avery Williamson on Sunday night.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Hager brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Hager is a little undersized and has short arms, but he’s a very good athlete. At the combine he posted a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical and 117-inch broad jump. His agility numbers were below average but he posted a solid 26 bench press reps.

In college, Hager was actually clocked at sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash and squatted 610 pounds.

Usage

Hager is an off-ball linebacker who will sometimes come up to the line of scrimmage or drop off into the slot or out wide, but not very often. He has experience of playing as the Mike linebacker and wearing the defensive headset.

Run defense

Hager is more of a sideline-to-sideline type of linebacker rather than being someone who will attack the line of scrimmage. Officially, he doesn’t have any tackles for loss in his NFL career. He’s at his best when he can avoid blockers rather than taking them on.

On this play, he initially gives ground to the blocker but frees himself up so get can get outside leverage and make the play.

Hager turned heads in the 2018 postseason when he stuffed this Zeke Elliott run at the goal line.

Coverage skills

Hager’s role against the pass has usually been to sit underneath in zone coverage and react to short passes, as he does here.

He hasn’t given up many catches down the field, mostly just surrendering yards on screen passes and dump-offs.

On this play, he drops deeper but Drew Brees is still able to complete a pass into a tight window.

He had one interception in college, which he returned down to the one-yard line to set up a crucial late touchdown.

Tackling

Hager has been a productive tackler who has good range, takes good angles and closes and wraps up securely based on his game film.

He has missed some tackles on special teams but has been a secure tackler on defense at the NFL level with only one missed tackle in regular season and preseason action.

He had four forced fumbles in college and also had this one to force a turnover at the NFL level.

Blitzing

Hager had eight sacks in his college career, but hasn’t blitzed very often at the NFL level. When he has, he’s generated some pressure though, with four quarterback hits officially. Hager did record half a sack on this play from a preseason game.

Special teams

Special teams probably represents the main reason for Hager being signed by the Jets and he’s already made an impact with this stop in kick coverage.

Hager was very productive with the Rams, racking up 24 special teams tackles in his first four seasons. He also contributed as part of a punt rush unit that blocked six punts in his first four seasons, although he didn’t block any of them himself. He also contributed as a blocker on the return units, although he had two holding penalties and an illegal block in the back in that role.

In college, Hager fielded one kickoff and returned it 12 yards.

Physicality

Hager lacks ideal size for a Mike linebacker role and, as a result, can get caught up on blocks at times.

As a tackler he packs a solid punch but doesn’t display any kind of recklessness in his hitting.

Instincts/Intelligence

Teammates and coaches have spoken highly of Hager’s football smarts. He has an ability to diagnose plays and move quickly to the ball carrier.

At Baylor, he got injured at the end of the 2013 season and their defensive numbers immediately went in the tank, underlying how important his role was in terms of getting everyone lined up right.

Attitude

Hager is regarded as having a tremendous work ethic and was a team captain and vocal leader in college.

His on-field discipline has generally been solid although he did get flagged for unnecessary roughness in a 2017 as he lit up an opposing player after a kickoff had already gone out of the back of the end zone.

Injuries

Hager was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury last October and missed the last 11 games. Prior to that, he had played in 69 out of 69 games since being drafted.

In college, he missed the last four games of the 2013 season with a groin injury and then sat out the spring in 2014 with an abdominal core injury.

Scheme Fit

Hager should know the system well, having played for Gregg Williams with the Rams in 2015 and 2016. However, as noted, his primary role will probably be on special teams.

He has a few former teammates on the Jets’ roster, including Sam Ficken and John Franklin-Myers.

Conclusions

Hager is a useful addition because he’s a good special teamer and knows the system well enough to fill in if there are further injury problems. He can even wear the headset if Neville Hewitt goes down.

His film is actually reminiscent of Blake Cashman, so it makes sense that this is the type of addition they would make.

As things stand, Hager only has Hewitt and Cashman ahead of him on the official depth chart, although Harvey Langi has also played some inside linebacker and got the start on Monday night. However, don’t forget that Patrick Onwuasor has been practicing and could be added to the active roster after the bye.