With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror and Pro Days starting to take place around the country, draft season has officially kicked into high gear. And if draft season has hit high gear, then mock draft season has as well, with pundits and draftniks alike offering their takes on how the first round will play out on April 28.
The king of draft analysts is ESPN’s Mel Kiper, and in his most recent mock the coiffed one predicts that the New York Jets will use the 20th pick of the first round on Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland. Of the 6’1″, 247-pounder, who had 102 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the national champions in 2015, Kiper wrote, “Ragland certainly qualifies as a BPA if he’s still around at No. 20. A monster against the run, Ragland plays faster than he’ll run at the combine because of great instincts. Draft him with the expectation you can start him in Week 1.”
Kiper expounded on his rationale behind the pick while speaking with colleague Rich Cimini. “He’s a thumper,” Kiper said. “He’s a guy that, really in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, would’ve been a top-10 pick, guaranteed. But coverage ability is going to be something (to watch). He was 259 at the Senior Bowl. You’d like to see that weight down a bit.”
“How effective will he be in coverage in the NFL? We know he can get after the quarterback,” Kiper continued. “You can move him around a little bit. He’s got some versatility there, but how he plays moving backward — not forward — is the concern with Reggie Ragland.”
Kiper’s assessment is (for the most part) shared by Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, who called Ragland a “thumping inside linebacker with throwback size and tonesetting mentality.” Zierlein goes on to write that “Ragland is a confident and capable early starter in league who has the temperament to become one of the premier run-stopping inside linebackers in the pro game.”
As Zierlein points out, if there’s a flaw in the thumper’s game it’s his ability to roam sideline to sideline. “Ragland has some coverage and speed limitations,” Zierlein said, “but his instincts and overall awareness should be able to mask those issues.”
As Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn told Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News, finding a linebacker with Ragland’s physicality who can stay on the field in subpackages can be easier said than done in today’s NFL.
“The three-down linebackers in this league right now are pretty rare,” Quinn said. “It’s very role-specific now in the NFL, so if you have a three-down linebacker, that guy’s going to be a high draft pick or you’re going to have to pay a lot of money for him.”
“If a guy’s just a third-down linebacker, well, he’s going to have to have speed and coverage ability and the ability to rush the passer or blitz,” Quinn said. “If he’s a first- and second-down player, then he’s going to play the run with the things I talked about — the instincts, the power, the tackling. So, those three-down linebackers are hard to find.”
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller apparently feels Ragland has the ability to be that three-down linebacker, mocking Ragland to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 17. “Ragland has the athleticism to make an immediate impact as a 4-3 middle linebacker,” Miller said, “and in Atlanta’s version of the Seattle defense under head coach Dan Quinn, the middle ‘backer must be able to stop the run and be active in passing situations. Ragland does that, and he also brings value as a pass-rusher through A-and B-gaps when needed.”
Simply put, it’s hard to imagine the Jets, Lions (at No. 16) or Falcons investing a first-round draft pick in a two-down run stuffer, so if Ragland is indeed drafted that early it would all but certainly be with the expectation that he will play significant snaps early. And it just so happens that all three of those teams have an immediate need inside.
Assuming a landing spot like that and given Ragland’s experience in Nick Saban’s complex defensive scheme at Alabama, he’s a good bet to be a every-down starter early in his professional career. If that proves to be the case, Ragland will be on the short list to be the first rookie IDP drafted in all formats this year, with a decent chance at cracking the top 25 fantasy options at the position.