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2016 NFL Draft: Is Alabama’s Reggie Ragland the Linebacker Rex Ryan’s Defense Needs?

Following a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the chances are slim that the Buffalo Bills will earn a berth in the 2015 NFL Playoffs, marking the 16th consecutive season in which they’ve missed out on the postseason. That means that we’ll once again be looking forward to the offseason before the Holiday Season. But, here at BillsMafia.com that’s not a bad thing, as we’ll keep you updated on everything you need to know about upcoming free agents and 2016 NFL Draft prospects that could potentially wear Bills’ uniforms next season.

I wrote up a primer on the team’s salary cap situation while highlighting potential free agent fits that you can find HERE if you missed it before.

Today, I decided to take a look at Alabama’s linebacker Reggie Ragland, one of the more impressive defenders in the 2016 NFL Draft and one of my favorite players to watch. With Nigel Bradham set to become an unrestricted free agent following the season, coupled with the fact that is doesn’t seem like he’s an ideal fit in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense, it seems that the Bills will be in the market for a linebacker this offseason.

Ragland is a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide, a program that’s churned out quality linebackers on a yearly basis– from Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley– and Ragland looks every bit as talented as those that went before him.

Ragland, who stands 6’2” and weighs 252 pounds is a former five-star recruit and was the No. 9 overall player in the nation coming out of high school. Most players with that hype aren’t usually comfortable “waiting their turn” to see the field, but Ragland accepted his role as a special teamer throughout his freshman and sophomore years before taking over the starting “Will” inside linebacker role in Alabama’s 3-4 defense in his 2014 junior campaign.

In the last two seasons, Ragland has racked up 185 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, eight pass breakups and an interception. According to CFBFilmRoom.com, Ragland missed just seven tackles during the 2015 season, the 23rd highest of full-time linebackers, trailing highly touted players such as Jaylon Smith, Darron Lee and Deion Jones.

Defending the Run

Alabama’s defense is notorious for shutting down their opponents’ rushing attacks and over the last two seasons, Ragland has been a big part of that success. He’s an instinctive player and plays with a physical, downhill mentality when defending the run.

In the following clip, Ragland is lined up as the right outside linebacker, or “SAM” while Tennessee is in a “Pistol” formation with 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB). Right off the snap, Ragland sniffs out the run play that appears to be a trap of some sort with pulling guards. He explodes through the tight end, bull-rushing him into the running back and makes the tackle at the line of scrimmage.

Here, Ragland is aligned as the “MIKE” in a 4-2-5 front. Tenesse’s quarterback Joshua Dobbs keeps the ball on a QB sweep to the right. Ragland is patient, scrapes to his left before seeing a clear lane and explodes through it, delivering a devastating blow for a stop.
His patience and aggressive style of play shows up again here as Tennessee runs the read option. He doesn’t bite on the quarterback keeper and chases down Jalen Hurd– a 6’4” 240-pound running back– tackling him with ease.

 
Block Shedding/ Playing Through Traffic

The majority of college-level linebackers rely on their speed and athleticism to chase down ball carriers and struggle using their hands and technique to disengage from blockers. For Reggie Ragland, that’s not the case, as he consistently shows the ability to not only stack and shed blockers, but remaining aware of his surroundings and keeping himself in the play.

Here against Wisconsin, Ragland is aligned as the “SAM” linebacker on the left and the Badgers are in a “Jumbo” backfield with a fullback, tight end and running back behind the quarterback. Upon the snap, Wisconsin’s H-Back looks to take on Ragland, who’s a B-gap defender (between the guard and tackle. Ragland displays perfect technique, staying square with the blocker, getting low and exploding through him. After shedding the block he makes a textbook tackle on the ball-carrier for a short gain.

 

Ragland is patient and shows great vision when playing in traffic, using lateral agility to weave and navigate through the trash and make plays.  
In the following run play, there’s congestion everywhere but Ragland stays patient, doesn’t overpursue and waits for his opportunity to attack. He makes the stop for a gain of two-yards.

 

Coverage Ability  

Reggie Ragland runs better than his 252-pound frame would suggest and considering the recent influx of sub-240 pound linebackers entering the NFL in recent years, his size will be over-analyzed in regards to his ability to be a three-down player at the next level. However, for his (likely) NFL position as a 3-4 inside linebacker, Ragland has the athletic ability to perform whatever tasks will be asked of him coverage-wise. He can cover the flats, drop into intermediate zones and has adequate range to close to the sideline.   Here, Ragland’s range is evident. He shows patience and intelligence by not biting on the play-action and quickly sniffs out the swing pass, showing off the closing speed to get to the sideline and tackle the running back for a gain of one.
In the following play against Georgia, Ragland drops into zone coverage. He keeps his eyes on the quarterback, who checks down to the back. Again, Ragland explodes and accelerates to the sideline to make another stop.

 

In the same game, Ragland drops into a deeper zone but as Georgia opts for a shorter pass, Ragland reads it, breaking on the ball and delivering a jarring hit that dislodges the ball, resulting in an incompletion.
Fit For Bills

Rex Ryan’s defense has relied on utilizing two big, physical inside linebackers that can thrive behind a stout defensive line (See: Bart Scott & Ray Lewis, Bart Scott & David Harris) with one serving as a “stuntman” (H/T @RDotDeuce) to take on blockers in order for the other to make plays. Ragland and Preston Brown would form a solid duo of physical, instinctive and athletic linebackers that would enforce the middle of the field, shut down the run and provide solid pass coverage.


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