Is Reggie Ragland a fit for the Buffalo Bills Defense?

by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page

With the Bills just about one week in to training camp, one of the big questions on the defensive side of the ball is whether or not Reggie Ragland is a “fit” to play the Mike (middle) linebacker position in the Bills new 4-3 defense.

As you all know, Ragland was drafted by the previous regime to play inside linebacker in Rex Ryan’s multiple defense. Ragland was considered to be an excellent fit in that type of scheme, but with the scheme change to a 4-3 that might not be the case this year.

That’s not to say that Ragland isn’t a very good football player. He is. But he might not be the type of player the Sean McDermott is looking for to play Mike in his scheme.

McDermott spent the last six seasons coordinating the Carolina Panther defense, which was one of the better defenses in the NFL over that time span. The last five seasons he had Luke Kuechly, one of the better, if not the best, inside linebackers in the NFL playing the Mike position. Kuechly is not that big at 6’3 – 242 with 4.58 speed. He is also known as one of the most instinctive linebackers in football. Kuechly runs the Panther defense when he is on the field and is the ultimate playmaker. He plays with strength, speed and aggressiveness. But his speed and quickness to go along with those great instincts are what allows him to make as many plays as he does.

In fact, when you look at the Carolina linebacker corps as a whole…the common denominator is speed! When you look at what the Bills have inside, speed is not their forte.

Coming out of college, Ragland was looked upon as one of the better inside linebackers in the 2016 draft class. He was a natural fit for a 3-4 type scheme. In the 2016 Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide, this is what I wrote about Ragland:

Strong Points – “Great size to go along with very good overall athleticism….good play speed….he plays with good strength and is strong at the point of attack….can shed and is a very good tackler…..can drop into coverage and play the short underneath zones……Has adequate pass rush skills…has good lateral agility and can move through trash…”

Weak Points – “More of a reactor than an anticipator…doesn’t consistently take good angles to the ball…wish he was faster”

Summation- “… Has ideal size to play inside in a 3-4 scheme…His instincts are average so he is more of a reactor than an anticipator…He is a downhill player who can stop the outside run because of his lateral agility…Can play in coverage but is much better in zone than man…Can be a solid inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, might not have the speed and instincts needed for a 4-3…he will be good but not special.”

Where I missed on Ragland was speed. I thought he was a 4.70 player. When Reggie went to the Senior Bowl he weighed in at about 258. A month later at the Combine, he was 247 and ran a very average 4.72. He followed that up with a 4.77 at his Pro Day, hardly 4-3 Mike speed.

Last year as a rookie Ragland tore his ACL and though he is full go now it remains to be seen how good his play speed is. Ideally the coaching staff would like to see Ragland in the low 240’s and show more play speed and range. If he cannot play with speed and be productive, he may be a player who has a short career in Buffalo. There is no question that in the right scheme Reggie Ragland can be a solid NFL player, it’s just that it might not be here in Buffalo.

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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