After a 2015 season in which he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year it is no surprise to see Reggie Ragland viewed as one of the top linebackers in the 2016 draft class.
So far this season Ragland has recorded a career-high 97 tackles with 6.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He also has seven passes defensed and forced two fumbles. The signs look good for Ragland as a first-round prospect, but there are a couple of improvements he will need to make in order to be a success at the next level.
A Consensus All-American in 2015, Ragland immediately passes the eye test. Standing at 6’2″ and 252 pounds, Ragland is a tremendous athlete who has good speed for a man of his size and hits hard, providing an intimidating presence in the middle of the field.
Combining his physical attributes with strong instincts, Ragland reads the game well and is particularly strong against the run. He consistently diagnoses run plays correctly and takes the right angles in pursuit, allowing him to bring down the ball-carrier with his decent speed, which also enables Ragland to be effective in pass coverage.
What also stands out about Ragland is his versatility, while he has predominantly operated as an inside linebacker during his time with the Crimson Tide, he has played a large amount of snaps as a defensive end. However, while there is much to like about Ragland as a prospect, there are a couple of irritating aspects of his game that show up on tape.
Ragland’s most glaring deficiency is his tendency to take plays off. He gets away with because of the dominance of Alabama’s outstanding defensive front, but his propensity to freelance on certain plays will not be accepted by NFL teams who will also look for him to make substantial improvements in taking on blockers one-on-one.
Indeed, Ragland is too easily dominated by opposing offensive linemen when rushing the passer and often gets caught up in the pile when defending the run due to his inability to disengage from blocks.
Despite his inconsistent motor and inability to take full advantage of his physical traits, Ragland’s upside should see him in the mix to be picked inside the top 20 and, with Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith having both suffered serious injuries, there is a good chance he could be the first linebacker off the board in April.
Yet if Ragland’s attitude in terms of taking plays off does not change before he lands with a pro team then he could be in for a rude awakening in his maiden season in the NFL.