Jun 4,2014

Off-season Spotlight of the Month: Derek Hagan

I was lucky enough to meet Derek Hagan while covering the NFL Pro Hollywood Bootcamp last spring. Derek had a been a fantasy sleeper of mine at some point during the 2011 season when he was with the Bills. Having been familiar with this work, I wanted to talk with him and include him in the piece. After the interview we chatted about the different teams he had played for and how he was happy to be back in his home state with the Raiders. Derek’s sweet spirit and warm smile immediately endured me to him. Plus, I was six months pregnant at the time and Derek was one of the few athletes who asked if he could touch my belly before actually doing it. He earned himself extra brownie points when he patted my belly and told my future son to be sure to “listen to mama” because she’s a “smarty lady.”

Since then Derek and I have kept in touch. His work ethic – both on and off the field – is incredibly impressive. Honestly, the guy never stops. Whether he goes back to the NFL or decides to pursue other avenues, his perspective is both unique and valuable. So much so that I wanted to share it with all of you. Enjoy and be sure to follow Derek on Twitter @dhagan80!

In your opinion, how has the game evolved over the past eight years? Are you seeing any trends now that didn’t exist when you first began your career?

Over the past eight years I’ve seen the NFL evolve into a pass first league. The days of a true “ground and pound” approach are essentially over. Instead, teams are employing an all out aerial assault. They’re taking to the air and throwing the ball at least 35-50 times a game. This results in more TDs, which elevates the entertainment experience for the audience, which draws in more viewers, which ultimately makes more money for each franchise and the NFL. So, yeah, I’m pretty sure this new high flying style is here to stay.

The trend that seems to have grown the fastest and that has surprised me the most is the way players are being fined for big hits or helmet to helmet contact. While I completely understand that the league is trying to prevent head traumas and injuries from occurring, the increased number of calls has caused the game to really slow down. As a player, that becomes tricky since it affects the pace that the game was built on.

Derek making plays as Sun Devil

The receivers in this year’s draft class have been hailed as some of the best prospects in recent history. Rookies like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin are getting a lot of attention not just because of their talent, but also because of their size. Having played the position, do you believe talent can overcome stature? Or does a WR need to be at least 6’3” to truly compete in today’s NFL?

I think talent can overcome stature. Just because Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin are 6″5 does not mean they can play in this league. Personally, what I think is most important for a receiver is their ability to get off of man to man coverage. If they can’t do that then defenses are going to consistently get after them… no matter how big they are. A complete receiver needs to be able to run routes and also be explosive in and out of breaks. Height is certainly a positive attribute, but it can’t be a player’s only characteristic.

Which of the drafted rookie receivers do you like most this season? Why?

I’m liking Sammy Watkins. I think the Bills got something special for trading up and picking this kid at number 4. It reminds me of what Atlanta did with Julio Jones a few years back… and we’ve seen what kind of playmaker he’s turned out to be. I think Watkins has it all: speed, explosiveness, physicality, great route running ability, and excellent hand-eye coordination. None of those things can be taught, which is why Watkins is so special. That said, he’s only only as good as his QB. If EJ Manuel can develop and become reliable week in and week out then Watkins will undoubtedly flourish.

Speaking of the draft, I assume you were keeping an eye on where your fellow Sun Devils were picked. As you’re probably aware, my Bears selected Will Sutton (DT) in the third round. I like the pick, but I’m a little concerned about his weight issues. Do you have any input on the matter? Did you get see him play while he was still at AZ State?

I personally love Will Sutton. In my opinion, Chicago got a steal because I thought he was a 1st or 2nd round talent. This guy was an absolute stud while at Arizona State. He was a two time PAC 12 defensive player of the year, which is pretty impressive considering all of the talent in the PAC 12. I believe he’ll work hard and take good notes. Plus, he’s got two great defensive ends – Lamar Houston and Jared Allen – to learn from. Don’t worry, he’s going to fit right in.

www.gamebreakerhelmets.com

Having been out of the league for a full season now, how are you enjoying your post-football life? What are you currently working on? What do you want to be doing in 10 years?

Wow, time flies! When I really think about it, it seems crazy that I’ve been out of the league for a full season. So far so good though. It’s definitely different, but I’m enjoying it. I’m always working out and staying in perfect shape just in case I get a call from a team. My goal was to play at the professional level for ten years, but I think lasting seven seasons is still a pretty big accomplishment.

Now that I have more time on my hands, I’ve been playing a lot of golf (10 handicap). By the way, I’m available if you or any of your readers want to battle me on the golf course! I’ve also been using my experience on the football field to transition into being a sportscaster. Currently, I’m working with Fox Sports Radio as an NFL analyst. Check me out on the Jason Smith Show!

I additionally started a relationship with GameBreaker Helmets, which is a uniquely designed performance cap for athletes. This helmet helps reduce the nicks and abrasions that come with playing a contact sport. I’m proud to say that we’ve gotten them into a large majority of high schools here in California. We’re looking to expand and grow so that teams across the country can benefit from the safety this truly innovative product provides.

As for your last question, in the next 10 years I hope to have at least three training gyms up and running. In fact, I’m currently in the works to open one later this year. I can’t divulge any details right now, but I will say it’s coming and it’s going to be awesome!

If you could travel back in time to June of 2006, what advice would you give yourself?

I’m happy with where I am and how my career has unfolded so I don’t think I’d give my younger self too much advice. I’d probably only tell myself to be more patient and not rush into things.

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