Aaron Donald and Ra'Shede Hageman should be among the first defensive tackles taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the order in which they are selected will come down to that age-old debate: production versus potential.
Donald took home a shelf full of awards and honors after leading the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss this season at Pitt, including 11 sacks, but at 6-foot, 285 pounds, he lacks the size usually associated with the position. Hageman (6-6, 311) has the prototypical attributes but had inconsistent production and effort at Minnesota.
After seeing both in-person at the Reese's Senior Bowl, NFL Network's Paul Burmeister says Donald has the edge.
"If he's not a first-round pick, then I don't trust my eyes," Burmeister told NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks on the College Football 24/7 podcast Tuesday. "It doesn't make sense if he's not somewhere mid-to-late in that first round."
Donald had at least one negative stop in all but one game this season, and his 43 solo tackles ranked fifth on the team. That relentless motor is more than enough to overcome his height, Burmeister said, drawing a direct comparison between Donald and Hageman.
"Finding one (defensive tackle) that plays hard all the time is rare," Burmeister said. "Look at Ra'Shede Hageman -- he has got all the potential. Who knows? Maybe he is worth a first-round pick, but teams are going to have to get comfortable with the fact there is a lot of tape of him not playing hard every snap, where he kind of goes away for a bit. You don't have that with Aaron Donald, while you do have all the production behind the line of scrimmage and also good in the run game."
Hageman is at the other end of the spectrum, accounting for 24 tackles for loss during his college career. Burmeister, a former Iowa player with extensive Big Ten ties, said Hageman performed better as a senior and was the first Gophers defender brought up by opposing coaches and players this season. Yet, there were still significant stretches where Hageman was not a factor.
But as Brooks said, "From a physical standpoint, he is everything. He is going to post J.J. Watt-like numbers at the combine."
There is no historical precedent for taking one over the other. Plenty of workout warriors have busted out, ditto for college superstars not able to make the leap to the next level. There are also plenty of instances where that consistent production carries over or inconsistency disappears to create an unlikely star.
That is the discussion that will be taking place in war rooms over the next few months.
As Burmeister summed up the ongoing debate, "Sometimes only the names change."
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.