Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland has been one of the more highly scrutinized prospects throughout the process. At season’s end, Ragland was generally discussed in the same tier of off-ball linebackers Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack, but as more evaluators and analysts break down tape, it seems that they’re simply overthinking Ragland.
It’s understandable. Reggie Ragland is 6’2” and his weight fluctuates between 245 and 255 pounds. He ran a 4.71-second 40-yard dash and a 7.55 second three-cone. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more 230 pound linebackers with freakish athletic abilities come into the league due to the increased emphasis on the passing game, while the big, physical inside linebackers like Ragland have slowly started to disappear. Of the 40 linebackers at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, just six weighed more than 245 pounds and only 12 weighed more than 240.
While Reggie Ragland may not be the elite athlete that every evaluator wants to see, this doesn’t mean that he can’t or won’t be a highly productive player and a valuable asset for whichever team selects him. It’s easy to watch a tape of Myles Jack and see him playing the slot, running stride for stride with a receiver, and then turn on a Reggie Ragland tape and watch him playing underneath zones and coming away unimpressed. But, it’s important to consider the roles each player will play at the next level, as well as what they’ll be asked to do. Ragland can do things that Jack cannot, and vice versa.
A two-year starter for the Crimson Tide, Reggie Ragland played weakside linebacker in 2014 before moving to the MIKE in 2015 for his senior year. In those two seasons, he recorded 195 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles, eight pass breakups and an interception.
Reggie Ragland as a Downhill Thumper
Reggie Ragland’s biggest impact will come in run support, where he’s a dominant downhill force. He’s intelligent, reads his keys and diagnoses plays quickly while consistently choosing the correct gap to attack. He’s patient enough to let things develop and doesn’t over-pursue or get fooled on misdirection or play action plays.
Ragland’s read-and-react ability and instincts are highlighted in this play against Wisconsin. Wisconsin is in 21 personnel with an H-Back to the right side of the offensive formation. At the snap, Ragland sees the H-Back take on the SAM linebacker, so he knows the running back has to cut to the outside. He bursts downhill and brings down the back for a loss.
Reggie Ragland does a good job getting off or avoiding blocks at the second level with his hands, which is highlighted in the following play against Tennessee. Tennesseee is running a quarterback sweep to the right out of a shotgun formation. The left guard pulls around the formation and the center looks to seal Reggie Ragland with a cut block. Ragland avoids the lineman, waits for the gap to open up and immediately explodes through it, delivering a punishing hit on quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Against Wisconsin, Ragland shows his stack and shed ability before bringing down the ball carrier.
Here against Michigan State, Reggie Ragland blows up the lead blocking fullback, sheds him and makes the tackle himself.
But we all know what Reggie Ragland can do in the tackle box. The biggest concerns about his game are his ability to make plays in space.
Reggie Ragland Range/Lateral Movement
Reggie Ragland moves well for a 250-pounder and shows off impressive burst and closing speed when chasing ball-carriers to the sideline. He takes good angles and doesn’t waste any steps in his pursuit, which often allows him to make stops for minimal gains.
Against Texas A&M, Ragland is patient against an option run, maintaining his position through the mesh point. As soon as the exchange happens, Ragland explodes laterally, taking a good angle and makes a great tackle for a gain of about two yards.
We’ve heard about Reggie Ragland’s lack of speed and athleticism enough, and it’s true that he isn’t on par with the Luke Keuchley’s or Derrick Johnson’s in that department. But, that doesn’t mean that he can’t work laterally and make plays.
Here against Tennessee, Ragland scrapes over the top of the defensive line, avoids a lineman’s attempt to block him and makes a tackle in space at the line of scrimmage.
Reggie Ragland in Pass Coverage
The biggest concerns that evaluators have with Reggie Ragland is whether he can be a “three down linebacker” that can stay on the field in nickel or obvious passing situations. At Alabama, he played in nickel, but came off the field in Dime packages, playing 81% of the Crimson Tide’s defensive snaps.
Ragland is a true middle/inside linebacker and isn’t a Darron Lee or Myles Jack type of run-and-chase weakside defender that will walk out to the slot and play straight up man coverage down the field. But, he shows that he can run the seam with a tight end in this play from the National Championship game against Clemson.
Wherever he’s selected, that team isn’t going to be asking him to run Tampa 2 drops. And that’s not a problem, as he’s excellent in underneath to intermediate zones.
He’s instinctive and understands pattern match concepts, which you can see in the following play against Wisconsin. Wisconsin has their tight end run a go route, with the likely intention of having Ragland run with him, while the H-Back runs a quick curl route underneath him. Ragland drops with the tight end, but sees the curl route develop and jumps the route, making the tackle and preventing the first down.
Reggie Ragland processes things quickly and puts himself in position to make plays in space in the passing game. Here against Georgia, he’s in a deep zone and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is running a shallow crossing route. Ragland sees this and shows off his impressive closing speed and devastating hit power to demolish Mitchell and break up the pass.
He’s quick to sniff out swing passes to running backs in the flat and has the range to stop them at, or behind the line of scrimmage.
Against Georgia, Reggie Ragland made an impressive play in coverage. Showing an A-Gap blitz before the snap, Ragland drops into a hook zone and takes away the underneath crossing route, which appears to be the key read for the quarterback. The quarterback is forced to scramble out of the pocket and Ragland chases him down and knocks him out of bounds for a two-yard gain.
He’s often used as a “spy” against mobile quarterbacks and has the movement skills necessary to bring them down.
Reggie Ragland as a Three-Down Defender
We’ve seen Reggie Ragland dominate against the run and we’ve seen Ragland make plays in pass coverage. Now, given his limited athleticism, it’s not the best idea to have him as your dime linebacker when opposing offenses go four-wide or empty. But that doesn’t mean Ragland has to come off the field.
Alabama often used him as an edge rusher in these third-and-long situations, and he had success doing so, notching 14 pressures and 2.5 sacks last year.
He’s strong enough to use his power to push the pocket and has the instincts to get his hands in a quarterbacks throwing lane to bat down passes.
Reggie Ragland is one of the best linebackers in the 2016 NFL Draft and wherever he lands, he’ll likely be a valuable asset to that defense. With his evaluation, it’s important to focus on what he can do and stop searching for things that he can’t. The areas where Ragland “wins” are areas where other linebackers in this class simply can’t match. Like I wrote, you obviously don’t want him as your run-and-chase WILL, but he shouldn’t be evaluated as one to begin with. Stop overthinking him and you’ll realize that there’s always a place for a dominant run defender that has enough lateral quickness and mental processing ability to be reliable in short-to-intermediate coverage.