Historically, the Bills have drafted a player who visited them pre-draft with their first-round pick. Leading up to the draft, we'll be looking at key visitors for Buffalo, to see who makes sense for them at No. 19 overall.
The next linebacker we're checking out is Alabama's Reggie Ragland.
Ragland was born in Madison, Alabama, where he played football and basketball in high school. He was a small forward on the basketball team, and a tight end and linebacker in football. He also competed in discus and shot put for his school's track and field team. Ragland was considered the No. 1 inside linebacker recruit in high school, and the four-star recruit committed to Alabama.
Ragland saw a little bit of playing time as a true freshman in 2012, playing mainly on special teams and forcing a fumble. He was a backup to C.J. Mosley in 2013 as a sophomore, then won the starting job for Alabama's Will linebacker in 2014 when Mosley entered the NFL. After Trey DePriest graduated, Ragland shifted responsibilities to the Mike, and Reuben Foster (who was Ragland's runner-up in 2014) became the Will.
In two seasons as a starter, Ragland collected 195 tackles (106 solo), 17 tackles for loss, four sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles, and 10 passes defended. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and a unanimous All-American.
A four-year college player, Ragland returned to Alabama for his senior season in part to complete his degree in consumer affairs and graduate, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother. He was one of the candidates for the Senior CLASS award, which celebrates student athletes who make a positive impact in their community. He's a 22-year-old who turns 23 in September.
While this draft class offers a smaller but athletic linebacker in Darron Lee, it also features the quintessential NFL middle linebacker in Ragland. He has similar height and arm length to Lee, but packs an extra 15 pounds on his frame. The player he matches up the best with, physically, is former Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. Ragland had a 4.72-second 40-yard dash, a 9'8" broad jump, and a 4.28-second short shuttle, all of which are a bit above average for an inside linebacker, and a bit below average for an outside linebacker. For comparison, Briggs had a 4.75-second 40-yard dash time, and a 9'5" broad jump.
With Ragland, you're not acquiring a linebacker who can carry any tight end up the seam. You are, however, acquiring a player with a nice frame, good athleticism in the first 10 yards of the field, and the ability to chase runners to the sideline or burst through the line for a tackle for loss.
Run defense and block shedding
Ragland is a beast in the run game, and that's the main reason he's enticing to teams. He's a hard-hitting form tackler that will have a nice highlight play or two every game. Ragland does an excellent job reading movement from an offense, identifying the gaps to attack, and bringing down a runner. While he doesn't have the most flexible hips, he has good enough downhill burst to make a play in the backfield, even when the runner is approaching the sideline. Check out his plays against Jalen Hurd from this year's Tennessee game, for one example.
While he's a little short and doesn't have a particularly long wingspan, Ragland's core power and hand usage make him one of the best linebackers at defeating blocks in this draft class. He can stand his ground when shoved, rebounds well off of blocks, and uses that acceleration to drive for a tackle.
Pass coverage and fluidity in space
Ragland isn't a great coverage linebacker, but he's comfortable dropping into coverage. He sits back in the middle of the field and can read a quarterback's eyes to see where the play is going. Ragland's a very intelligent player who breaks down plenty of film. You can see his awareness when players move through his zone, or a turnover causes the play to start moving in the other direction. Andy Benoit had a sit-down session with Ragland where they analyzed his game film, and it really highlights how well Ragland understands his coverage responsibilities on the field.
That said, he has his athletic limitations. He can run with some tight ends, but Charles Clay would be able to beat him down the seam. He's slow to flip his hips or change direction, so receivers who attack him across the middle and add a hitch or false step to their route can turn him around. In dime packages, he's not the best linebacker to keep out there on the field, unless you have a more creative role in mind.
Pass rushing aptitude
That's where Ragland's pass rushing can come into play. Alabama would occasionally line Ragland up as a defensive end on obvious passing downs. With his hand in the dirt, Ragland is a solid player who can tie up a tackle, use a bit of a rip or bull rush, and occasionally help finish up a pressure. He's not a "creator" as a pass rusher, but he could be about as effective as, say, Manny Lawson. On A-gap blitzes, Ragland's ability to identify blocking assignments and his burst would make him a viable threat.
Ragland and Lee are the yin and yang of this draft's first round linebackers. While Lee is a great mover but hesitant on the football field, Ragland knows his role and plays just like an NFL linebacker should, albeit with a few limitations due to his average athletic ability. If the Bills aren't concerned about the minute details of scheme, but want a true football player to fill their linebacker weakness, Ragland should be the player. At his best, he can be a Briggs or David Harris for the team - an outstanding run defender who can take on blockers and free up someone like Preston Brown or Zach Brown to make plays in coverage.
That said, you could argue that Ragland is pretty much the same type of player as Preston Brown, the former third-round pick from Louisville. Both are 6'1" and 250 pounds, both have average overall athleticism, and both possess skills ideally made for blowing up run plays. Ragland is a much better prospect than Brown was, but he wouldn't necessarily improve Buffalo's defense by adding a new player to the field - it would likely turn into addition by subtraction.
That's where Ragland sits with the team. If they believe he can find a home alongside the Brown pair, or if they think his football talent is valuable enough to justify benching one of them, they should pick him. If they aren't sure he has a home on the defense, they should look somewhere else.