Seventh round draft picks seldom carve long careers in the NFL. They are dice rolls, fliers and high-variance prospects by design. Teams are incentivized to take risks, to think big because they’re not expected to glean any real value from that late-draft position anyway.
Safety Eric Hagg was supposed to be different—perhaps not at first, but definitely, as he inched closer towards his second year.
Selected with the 248th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Cleveland Browns, Hagg quickly stood out relative to the rest of the team’s secondary early on. It was surprising on many levels, but it also wasn’t out of nowhere.
His college career hinted that he might be able to stick at the NFL level. He spent four years at Nebraska, where he amassed a reputation as one of their most versatile and reliable defenders. In his senior season alone, he racked up 41 solo tackles and five interceptions through 14 games.
Though he never really made a name for himself as an interception threat through his first three years at Nebraska, his solo playmaking was almost always present. He combined for 59 solo tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons. His freshman year was a wash, as it can be for many collegiate players. He racked up five assisted tackles while playing minimal downs across seven appearances.
Given his consistency in the secondary when actually granted playing time, though, it came as little surprise to people at Nebraska when, in 2012, Hagg became the favorite to start in Cleveland. Injuries opened the door for him to become part of the defense’s regular rotation, but he was routinely outplaying then-No. 1 safety Usama Young, who had struggled with both his performance and injuries the year before.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances, and it led to Hagg getting real run during his second NFL season—a serious accomplishment for someone selected so late in the draft. He recorded 12 appearances that year, including four starts, through which he amassed 20 solo tackles and one QB hit.
The groundwork for an every-week player was there, even if he wasn’t necessarily starter’s material. Unfortunately, injuries began to derail his availability from there. He didn’t play in the 2013 NFL season, and though he latched onto the Denver Broncos in 2014, he never made it past their practice squad. Hagg retired from the NFL, officially, in July 2014.
None of which makes his story a cautionary tale. Again, for where Hagg was drafted, his track record is not unique. His career arc is more so evidence of just how hard it is for seventh-round draft picks to stick beyond their second season. They are guaranteed nothing entering the NFL.
Most, in fact, are guaranteed to see even less time than Hagg ultimately did.