Mario Haggan | # | LB Height: 6-3 Weight: 263 Age: 28 #57
Mario Marcell Haggan is a happy guy. Far from those players who are to locker rooms what a succubus is to a camp site, Haggan likes to laugh, to joke, and is far from shy. When he was at his Senior Bowl Weekend, he walked up to Coach Dick Vermeil, interrupted his conversation and started to talk to him. On the Monday before that game he shuffled through a few personnel types at the Adams Mark Hotel, Senior Bowl headquarters, to introduce himself to the future NFL head coach, interrupting Vermeil’s conversation in the process. The coach and the future NFL player shared a few laughs, and then Haggan moved on.
"It was a short conversation, but it went well," said Haggan. "He's a great guy. He's the same guy you see on television. He's a great coach and a class-act guy."
This season, he moved on from Buffalo to Denver. The circumstances were a bit murky, since he had just served a 4 game suspension for a banned substance. No, it wasn’t a steroid: It was for a prohibited ingredient in an over-the-counter weight-loss product.
"It's definitely been tough, no doubt," said Haggan. "And it was my fault for not knowing what was in those supplements. I was taking an over-the-counter drug, actually trying to keep my weight down. But I was a first-time offender, got fined and suspended four games. It was a substance recently banned by the NFL even though a lot of us didn't know it until it was too late." For this and other reasons, Buffalo decided to cut him loose after 5 seasons.
Although a standout special teams player, Haggan ran a 4.88 40 at the combine (for reference, Larsen’s time was listed as a 4.94) and he perhaps doesn’t have the top end speed that a starting MLB or SAM usually needs in this league. It’s worth noting that instincts, understanding the game and experience can help to mitigate that weakness. After opening his professional career mainly on special teams (where he totaled 57 special-teams stops over his 5 seasons), Haggan worked his way into the defensive rotation at strong side linebacker last year. But Buffalo has decided to go in another direction.
Haggan comes to us from Clarksdale, Mississippi, a small town guy with a southern guy’s natural comfortableness and gift of conversation. In high school, Haggan was selected all-state by the Clarion-Ledger and got an honorable mention All-America by USA Today coming out of Clarksdale High School back in 1998. When choosing his college, Haggan had a few suitors.
"Alabama, Mississippi State, the other Mississippi school, Illinois, and a couple other Division I schools showed a lot of interest. I was mainly looking at staying in-state," he remembers. What made the difference in the end were the Bulldog coaches. "The style of defense and the type of recruiting Glen Davis did. He and Coach Sherrill made me feel like I would really have a chance to do good things at Mississippi State, and it turns out they were right." Haggan started at LB in 1999, a season that saw MSU start 8-0 and earn one of the highest national rankings in school history. "The '99 year was a great year. We rotated two defenses, so that allowed me to play behind Barrin Simpson and a couple other guys and be an early contributor as a young guy. That year was special because we played together as a team," Haggan says. "We had about four or five come-from-behind victories. We went through a period where we lost to Alabama and Arkansas and had a chance to go undefeated or even compete for a SEC championship. To come off those to two losses and beat our rival was really big and meant a lot to recruiting in this state."
While playing at MSU in 2002, Haggan was the showcase player in ESPN's The Season, an in-depth documentary about various sports teams. He was a three time All SEC and an All-American. He was the emotional anchor of a Bulldog team that went to three bowl appearances, a productive defender who led the team in tackles as a senior with 119, also accumulating 7 1/2 tackles for loss. He played both middle linebacker and defensive end as a junior after being named first team All-Conference selection linebacker as a sophomore. That didn't work and he went back to linebacker for his senior season but without complaint or attitude. His 359 career tackles still ranks eighth all time for the Bulldogs.
After his memorable meeting with Vermeil at the Senior Bowl, Haggan prepared for the combine. He put up the 225 lb. bench 21 times and had a vertical leap of 33 inches. Despite his slow 40, he was rated anywhere between the third and 7th round. Despite being an intelligent player, and a natural run stopper with a classic Mike build, he was slow, another dreaded tweener with DE size. His draft analysis said in part,
"Mario Haggan was a productive college player at a few different positions, as his stats show he's always around the ball carrier. Mario Haggan doesn’t have the size for defensive end or the speed for linebacker. However, there have been pro-bowl quality MLBs before without much speed Mario Haggan figures to be a good special teams player…he has the instincts to succeed if he’s given a chance." And after he was drafted by the Bills: "Athletic linebacker with good upper body strength. Good tackler. Team leader with good intangibles. Smart player. Also played defensive end in college but is likely too small to play there in the pros. Plays much better closer to the line and can struggle in man to man coverage. Lacks speed to the sideline."
Buffalo took him with the 228th pick of the 2003 draft, partly despite concerns about some chronic ankle problems, now resolved. Ironically, Denver had pick 227, from Carolina, and used it on DE Clint Mitchell. That’s just one way that Haggan’s life has nearly intersected with the Broncos. When Haggan was the All-American, All SEC MLB with Mississippi State, his D line included Dwayne Robertson. Playing next to Robertson was the Broncos later draft pick Dorsett Davis. When he was drafted, he was rated by some as the 19th best ILB in the draft. Niko Koutouvides was ranked as the 9th.
When the Chargers complain about the Broncos, Haggan understands. The Bolts already hate him. He has been tagged, unfairly or accurately, for yanking on the ankle of Clinton Hart.
"By Kevin Acee UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER December 4, 2006 ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Linebacker Shaun Phillips had to be restrained, and head coach Marty Schottenheimer called a timeout at game's end for the sole purpose of allaying tensions. The Chargers left the field thrilled with the 24-21 victory but upset by their belief the Bills' Mario Haggan intentionally yanked on Clinton Hart's ankle during an onside kick.
"The guy twisted Clinton Hart's ankle," Phillips said. "We don't play like that. We're professionals here. To try to break somebody's ankle is a problem. If you want to give somebody a rib shot or pinch him, it's OK; it's part of the game. A little bit of cheap shots is going to take place. But you cannot, not under any circumstances, try to maliciously hurt anybody. You just don't do that. You're messing with a person's livelihood; he has a family. You don't do that to people." Hart was carted off the field and was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain."
The Broncos might want to remind the Bolts (who are still, this week, whining and moaning in the media about Ed Houchulis’ blown call during the 1st game of the season) that pinching and gouging are just part of the game. Dick Butkus after all, was known in part for having bitten an opposing player’s leg in a pile-up, so I guess the game has come a long way. At any rate, Haggan should feel right at home on the Broncos. The Chargers hate us, too.
Anxiously awaiting his return to the NFL, Haggan fully realizes the day will come when he has to hang up his helmet and shoulder pads forever. "I feel like I am well-prepared," said Haggan of life after football. "You never want that time to come, when you put football down for good. I am in my sixth year and already know it will be tough, especially when you see how tough it is for guys like Brett Favre to walk away after such a long career."
But Haggan already has a couple of career plans for life after the NFL. "I want to have a broadcast career and I've done some things with broadcasting already," said Haggan. "I would say broadcasting is my first choice and coaching is a close second. I still have that dream of coming back to be the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State."
"I had a great opportunity to work at the TV station at Mississippi State and was an intern," Haggan continued. "That really helped me get started. Now I have my own radio show in Buffalo and do some tv spot segments from the Bills' locker room for Channel 4 in Buffalo. I have also been to the NFL Broadcasting Boot Camp, doing all I can to boost my broadcast career, my second career so to speak."
The Broncos hope that he isn’t looking too far past this season. Another stud on special teams would be welcome, especially with K2 starting, for now, at MLB. The Denver Post could be right, and Larsen may also see reps at Mike, but Coach Shanahan looked at the man before the draft and saw ‘fullback’ tattooed across his forehead (Perhaps this weekend we’ll see him catch a pass or two). Let’s hope that the big, smooth talking southern fellow can plug some gaps in the dike for us. He’s got a reputation as a veteran locker room leader joining a young team. A huge leader of a guy who plays with emotion could be a valuable thing.
Note - Some of the stats out there on Haggan are conflicting. His current weight is listed from 252 to 268 or even higher (DenverBroncos.com has him at 263). One source claimed that he had over 100 tackles last year with Buffalo - nfl.com states that he has 78 for his career. The RMN listed 84 special teams tackles alone and says that he's 252 lbs. The numbers I used are numbers that at least two sources agreed on. That's all I can promise.