Incoming Tide: Why Reggie Ragland (ILB) is the Best Pick for the Dolphins
Often when scouting Alabama prospects, Nick Saban’s roots in the Bill Belichick coaching tree become very clear. How can you tell? Saban and Belichick share a holy commandment. In their eyes, there is only one commandment that rules above all others:
“Do your job.”
Reggie Ragland is the epitome of a player who does his job. The physically dominating inside linebacker made a name for himself at Alabama by plugging up the middle of the field, stuffing runs seemingly every possession. Ragland isn’t the type of player who pops out at you on tape due to blazing speed or highlight reel plays. Sure, he has appeared on his fair share of Sports Center Top 10s, but that isn’t his game. He isn’t a dominant coverage player. He isn’t going to cover the width of the field in an instant. What does he do? His job. He plugs the middle of the field better than any linebacker in this draft, exhibits strong instincts, and actually has more athletic prowess than many give him credit for.
With that being said, a player who simply does his job is someone that the Dolphins could surely use in their corner.
Background & Player History:
Reggie Ragland, raised in Madison, Alabama, was a five-star recruit out of high school. He wasn’t the “raw athlete” type of player. Sure, he was a state championship basketball player and a successful tight end. However, his future was clearly as a linebacker. Ragland chose to attend Alabama over Florida, Tennessee, and of course, Auburn.
After contributing as a backup, and on special teams during 2012 and 2013, Ragland began to put his ability on display in 2014. He recorded 10.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, had an interception, and was second on the team with 93 tackles, only behind Landon Collins. In 2015, he made a clear statement that he was a dominant linebacker ready to play at the next level. Ragland recorded 102 tackles, had 7 passes defensed, and made 6.5 tackles for loss. His performance warranted a consensus vote to the All-American team, and he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
The most apparent element of the ILB position that Ragland excels at is stuffing the run. This fact will not be disputed by any scout, as Ragland was consistently asked to man the trenches during a rigorous stretch of SEC games. How can you tell an NFL prospect from a regular college player? Domination.
On this play you can clearly see Ragland’s fortitude in the ground game. He sees the play develop, watches a hole open up in the blocking, and doesn’t over pursue. Many linebackers get too eager when they see a hole develop and immediately rush in that direction. Ragland’s patience is on full display here, as he eliminates the risk of misdirection by standing his ground until he establishes certainty in the play’s progression.
The play above is an example of Ragland’s ability to make the most of his opportunities when given space. Just as important is the ability of a linebacker to bring down the ball carrier, despite traffic or the presence of blockers.
On this play, Ragland doesn’t have a clear lane to the running back, as the left guard blocks him. Despite this, he is able to use his speed and power to eliminate the blocker’s leverage. This enables him to collapse the running lane. Under the cluster of bodies, it appears that Ragland has pushed the lineman back into the running back, stopping the ball carrier’s progress completely.
On this play, Reggie Ragland demonstrates both awareness and the ability to disengage from blocks. He manages to track Connor Cook and get off of the blocker and wrap up the quarterback. Yes, this was a broken play. No, it doesn’t make that tackle any less pretty, or the presence of mind to track and disengage any less impressive. One of Ragland’s best qualities is his technique when wrapping up offensive players.
While Reggie Ragland is not a good player in man coverage, he is much better than advertised in zone. This is not thanks to great physical ability that leads to range, but to a good understanding of the game, high awareness, and the patience to let plays develop in front of him.
Here, Ragland is assigned to play zone in the middle of the field. WR Kendrick Edwards (#6) comes across the formation into Ragland’s zone as QB Brandon Allen rolls out with the play. Many linebackers will attempt to cover one player in this case and fail to realize what seems inherently obvious to Ragland: just be an obstacle. This isn’t a brilliant play in terms of technical coverage; it just shows Ragland’s intelligence as a football player. He stays between the QB and WR until he sees that one of his teammates can pick up the coverage, at which point he has the presence of mind to rush towards the QB, stopping him short of a first down.
On this play, Ragland once again exhibits patience and a high football IQ. Many players are taken completely by surprise when they are faced with a real time read-option attack. Here Josh Dobbs (Tennessee’s QB) is executing the read and presents a true threat to take off with the ball given his athletic ability. Many ILBs are taken advantage of in this situation, especially if they lack lateral quickness. Ragland’s instincts help him avoid this fate. He stands his ground and doesn’t overplay towards either Dobbs or the running back.
Now, time for the highlight reel.
Reggie Ragland is able to make fundamentally sound plays when asked to defend the middle of the field. He is also able to lay hits that force you into recurring nightmares. Three things stand out when watching Ragland, and the Crimson Tide as a whole, on tape: power, decisiveness, and a genuine desire to show everyone on the field that you value nothing more than displaying dominance. That is the Alabama defense’s attitude, and Reggie Ragland embodies it.
It is also important, when discussing Ragland’s deficiencies in coverage, to point out the different between ball skills and being a coverage player.
On this play, Ragland has the presence of mind to go for the football while bringing down the quarterback. His strength is on display again as he rips the ball away from Brandon Allen.
The title of that file? “GimmeThat.GIF”
Reggie Ragland is really good at his job. At Alabama, man coverage was not regularly part of his assignment. He was actually asked to cover someone one-on-one so rarely that there aren’t obvious examples on film. However, Nick Saban is the master of masking player weaknesses. If Ragland can’t cover in man, Saban wasn’t going to ask him to do it.
This play is an example of what happens when your ILB struggles in man coverage. The defense is forced to shift a safety down onto the tight end. Unfortunately, there is usually a window of opportunity for the QB to complete a pass up the seam. Deshaun Watson, one of the best passers in the NCAA, is able to take advantage of Reggie Ragland’s coverage deficiency.
Ragland is not as slow as some analysts have indicated he is throughout the draft process. No, he isn’t going to stick with Jimmy Graham downfield. No, he wont be able to chase down a RB once he breaks into the next level of the defense. That is not Ragland’s strong suit. He also lacks a second-gear, which is somewhat troubling when he is asked to accelerate. As will be pointed out endlessly during this process, there is a great deal of importance in a player’s ability to hit the extra gear and close in space.
Here you can see where a player would normally hit the second-gear while closing on a passer. Had he been able to burst forward at a faster rate, he could have turned a throwaway into a sack. Ragland clearly isn’t running slowly on this play, and my knock isn’t on his top end speed (while it isn’t optimal, it isn’t the weakness many make it out to be). The problem is that he lacks the added burst to turn plays like this into a sack rather than an incompletion.
Reggie Ragland’s speed is sufficient for making plays in the middle of the field. However, his lack of a second gear creates problems for him outside of the numbers. His other issue? Really. Bad. Angles.
Reggie Ragland put at least two plays like this on tape in every game he played. Whenever the ball carrier got outside of the numbers and Ragland was asked to close before they reached the sticks, he seemed to take a poor angle. Once again, instincts inside the middle are entirely different from those outside. Ragland looks cerebral in the middle of the field and lost when closing outside.
How He Fits in Miami:
Reggie Ragland is a pure ILB. No questions asked; no ifs, ands, or buts. He is not the type of player who you will shift down to rush the passer off of the line, or the type to defend receivers in coverage. In all honesty, he isn’t that versatile. However, he is the best player in the nation at what he does, and that is stuffing the run from the linebacker position.
The Miami Dolphins’ defense is not the same as it was a decade ago. Gone are the days of Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, roaming the field as enforcers. If the Dolphins want another player who can add to the defense’s intimidation factor, Reggie Ragland is their man. Any running back who looks over the line of scrimmage and sees Ragland peering into the backfield will have second thoughts about that whole “run through the A gap” thing.
Those who detract from Ragland’s ability make fair points. He is not elite in coverage and could be exploited when facing explosive tight ends or running backs. He also lacks a second-gear, which is necessary to close on players outside of the numbers.
There is one point that Ragland’s detractors make that actually could be neutralized if he were to be selected by the Dolphins. Many argue that Ragland’s success is partially thanks to the blocks consumed by the dominant defensive line at Alabama. Well, if you want to emulate the strong presence in the middle of Bama’s defense, then playing behind Ndamukong Suh sounds like a pretty good situation.
Clearly, I am higher than most on Reggie Ragland. Why? I have seen the Dolphins’ defense fail to establish any semblance of strength or toughness in recent seasons. Why is this the case? Because they play linebackers like Kelvin Sheppard at one of the most important positions in a 4-3 unit.
Many will argue that the Miami Dolphins would be overdrafting Reggie Ragland if they were to select him with the 13th overall pick. Drafting a player like Ragland, who is considered by many to have a very high floor (low bust potential), is not exactly a bad thing for Miami. They should be focused on adding instant defensive contributors. The Dolphins also could use Ragland in a 3-4 defense, a switch that could be made by Vance Joseph in 2017.
A trade down would be optimal if the team would like to select Ragland. However, even if they stay put at 13, bringing in the dominant Crimson Tide linebacker would be a huge step in the right direction for a team that is looking to establish toughness and domination. If the Miami Dolphins are committed to rebuilding a linebacker corps that was among the league’s worst in 2015, it is hard to find a better place to start than with a player like Reggie Ragland.