We started things off on the defensive side of the ball, and by popular demand, it looks like we're sticking with it. Next up, Reggie Ragland.
Hello. I don't think we've met. My name is Alex Reno, and I will be your conductor for the Reggie Ragland Hype Train. Everyone is welcome aboard at any time. If you lose interest, I'm sure the Nkemdiche Express has a few seats open. Let's get started with your tour.
LB Reggie Ragland (Alabama)
6-foot-2, 252 pounds
Ragland earned recognition from the draft community after a stellar Junior season and has only improved since. Alabama did some experimenting with him and lined him up all over the place, including putting his hand in the dirt and asking him to rush the passer out of a three-point stance. That experiment didn't work so well, and it was scrapped (for the most part) during his Senior season. In 2015, Ragland earned a spot on the Consensus All-America roster and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
More often than not in a 4-3 scheme, the middle linebacker, or the MIKE, is responsible for calling out plays and being the heart and soul of the defense. It's important to be a leader. Lions fans will bicker and squabble about why Stephen Tulloch doesn't belong (I'm guilty, myself), but there is no doubt that he is the leader of that defense on the field.
You won't have to worry about Reggie Ragland demanding the respect of his teammates. After an absolute beatdown from Ole Miss earlier in the year, Ragland's message to his teammates was short and sweet: "No one's scoring on us." Well shit, Reggie. You didn't have to go and be literal about it and shut out my Spartans. But seriously, Ragland's demeanor on and off the field is something that scouts should and will covet when searching for an inside linebacker.
Dominant in the run game
There aren't many negatives to Ragland's game. He can truly do anything you ask of him as an ILB and do it at a high level, but his ability to read and react and dominate the run game is what makes him so special to me.
The last person you want to meet at the line of scrimmage is Reggie Ragland. It's like running into a brick wall. He's a sure tackler that wraps up well and finishes by denying the ball carrier of any extra yardage. Ragland's ability to read a play and quickly react is unprecedented. Take this next play for example:
Here, Ragland quickly identifies the run play called on 3rd-and-3. He manages to weave around and slip through two blockers all while maintaining his speed and meeting the ball carrier a good yard behind the LOS, forcing a punt.
Here's a trait that the Lions are desperately lacking with Stephen Tulloch. How many times have you found yourself leaping from your couch, yelling at your television and cursing Tulloch or Ihedigbo's name because they were too slow to get to the sideline and missed a tackle in the process. Yeah, I hear you. That ain't gonna happen with Reggie Ragland. Here's two consecutive defensive plays from the Bama/Tennessee game to show you what I'm talking about.
This play is deceptively brilliant. Watch as Ragland methodically drifts laterally with the running back, almost as if he's letting the lead-blocking right guard believe that he has the upper-hand on him. Right before the lead blocker engages, Ragland kicks into that extra gear and slams the ball carrier down for no gain.
There's no way Stephen Tulloch makes this play. I have a gut feeling that Ragland is going to open some eyes and test well at the combine.
You also might want to tighten your chin strap if you're going up against Ragland, because he ain't afraid to lay the wood.
What you're getting with Reggie Ragland is a hell of an all-around football player. He's an elite run defender, solid in coverage and has tremendous instincts to constantly be around the football. He hasn't been used enough in man-coverage and isn't perfect in zone-coverage, but he shows a strong understanding of receiver's routes and shouldn't have a problem being asked to cover a zone or receiver at the next level.
Ragland fills out his frame nicely for the position and exhibits good athleticism for his size. He has an elite ability to process a play and quickly react. He has good field awareness and is able to look through blockers and shed them with ease. Ragland is also arguably the best downhill tackler in this class. He has magnificent closing speed and does a nice job of wrapping up in open space.
How He Fits
Ragland is currently my No. 1 ranked ILB and No. 4 overall player on my Big Board. History tells us that ILBs tend to be undervalued in the NFL, so it's entirely possible that he'll be there at No. 16 overall. He is the most natural fit as a MLB in a 4-3 system compared to other top prospects like Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith. That works out perfectly for the Lions, who are going to face the tough decision of whether or not to keep Stephen Tulloch next year. Tulloch is due $7.3 million next year, with only $1.3 million of that serving as 'dead money'. That means the Lions can save $6 million by cutting him.
The Lions need to get younger and more athletic defensively because they're currently unable to match the speed of opposing offenses. Ragland brings that and more and could serve as an immediate upgrade over Tulloch, while being significantly cheaper.
Grade: 1st round
Games watched: 2014 vs. Texas A&M, 2015 vs. Wisconsin, 2015 vs. Georgia, 2015 vs. Tennessee, 2015 vs. Michigan State, 2015 vs. Auburn
2016 NFL Draft profiles: DL Jonathan Bullard (Florida)