Questions remain if Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager can translate production from the Big 12 to the NFL.
He's a linebacker by blood. His father, Britt Hager, is an iconic figure in University of Texas football history as he still holds both the single season (199) and all-time (499) school record for tackles. After his career at Texas, Britt was selected in the third round of the 1989 NFL draft, and went on to enjoy a nine year NFL career. Twenty-six years later, Bryce has a chance to continue the family tradition and make a name for himself on Sundays.
"I feel like anyone has pressure with the name on their back," said Hager. "You're representing your family name, so with me growing up, my Dad never put pressure on me. Playing football is something I love to do so I'm going to take pride in my name regardless of if he played or not."
At Baylor, Hager put together a successful career as part of the winningest class in school history. As a fifth-year senior, he totaled 114 total tackles, 12 of them for loss while ranking fourth in the Big-12 and 23rd nationally with an average of 5.8 unassisted tackles per game. He found a home as the team's starting inside linebacker for three seasons. The defensive signal caller was known as a highly intelligent player who held the trust of his coaches and teammates.
Hager believes his resume suggests he can play every down in the NFL.
"I think I can play downhill," said Hager. "I can play in coverage. 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."
Throughout the pre-draft process, the Austin, Texas native has largely impressed. His 40-yard dash time of 4.60 was strong, and he's also done well throughout positional drills at both the combine and his pro day.
At only 6-1 and 235 pounds, Hager is undersized. Scouts worry that he may be overpowered and suggest he may not be well-suited for the inside linebacker position at the next level. NFL media draft analyst Lance Zierlein suggests this to be the case.
"With his burst to the ball and ability to cover, Hager would be best suited for a 4-3 defense looking for an athletic linebacker who can make plays outside of his area," wrote Zierlein. "Hager might end up a late-round pick, but teams like his production and chase traits."
While physical limitations may hinder his initial ability to get on the field as a linebacker, Hager is sure to become an instant contributor on special teams. Regardless of his positional status, the former all Big 12 linebacker hopes his no nonsense approach to the game will help make him a leader among his peers.
"I'm one of those guys who leads by example," said Hager. "Once you do enough stuff the right way, people tend to follow. I will keep doing the right thing, and hopefully people will follow."
Hager is projected as a fifth to sixth round pick.