Versatility is needed in the fast, passing preferred National Football League and Alabama ILB Reggie Ragland, with his size, may not be the complete answer to counteract a league that leans more and more toward aerial attacks on offense. He ran a 4.72 official time at the NFL Combine, but running straight and covering an agile tight end are two different things. It’s maybe the only part of Ragland’s game that gives NFL talent evalutors pause.
“I think in terms of Ragland he’s a thumper,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s (Ragland) would’ve been a top 10 guaranteed. But coverage ability is going to be an issue. He was 259 (pounds) at the Senior Bowl and that weight has to come down a bit. How effective he’ll be in coverage is the question. You know he can get to the quarterback and you can move him around a little bit.
“He’s got some versatility, but how he plays moving backward not forward is the concern with Reggie Ragland.”
And that may be the problem with selecting him with the first round pick. Bills head coach Rex Ryan is known for using his front seven for deception, but if a player isn’t capable of dropping back, will he be worth a first-round pick for Buffalo?
There’s no debating Ragland’s production. In his four years at Alabama, he racked up over 220 tackles and was a force up the middle when it came to run defense. The key question with the 6-foot-2, 252-pound prospect is if he can be a three-down linebacker.
The Bills are in a division where they face Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Cameron and the newest addition to the New England Patriots, Martellus Bennett. Going sideline-to-sideline is essential in the AFC East, but some believe that if he stays fit Ragland can be athletic enough to handle third down assignments.
“Ragland could plug in and play,” NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “The ironic thing to me is I saw a lot of (NY Jets LB) David Harris in Ragland. He can play downhill and take on and get off blocks. That’s hard to find in linebackers nowadays.
“(He is) very instinctive, which is the most important characteristic for an inside linebacker in any defense… He can cover backs and tight ends, so I don’t buy the knock on him that he has to come out in sub situations.”
What has changed for Ragland is his diet. Adapting from a college student-athlete to a professional player will allow him to focus on himself and his football career. He’s already getting a head start on that now, even before his first paycheck. He weighed in at 247 pounds at the NFL Combine in February and kept it off for his pro day in mid-March.
“I wanted to drop (my weight) and get it down so I changed my diet,” Ragland said. “(I’ve) had a low carb diet and it really helped me shed the pounds down. I was eating a lot of chicken and fish, no fried foods... A lot of my foods were prepared for me, a lot of fiber.”
Buckling down to become an elite backer is Ragland’s commitment now. No longer does he need to balance football with school and a nutrition plan. That should enable him to reach his peak potential as a pro.
“I thought I was pretty fast even when I was 255,” he said. “But dropping weight always makes you faster.”
If the two-time national champion inside linebacker has convinced NFL clubs that he can be even better than he already is, then Ragland could be seen as an every down, difference maker.