A season ago, Ronald Darby was the most valuable Bills rookie. His debut NFL campaign was so good, he finished second to fellow cornerback Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs in the vote for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
In a recent mailbag column, Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com fielded a question about this year’s crop of Bills rookies:
When asked who he believes will be the team's rookie of the year in 2016, Brown responded with the following:
I think the player who has the best opportunity to be rookie of the year is Reggie Ragland. With Shaq Lawson expected to miss a portion of the regular season coming off shoulder surgery it removes him as a likely candidate. Then add in the fact that Ragland is a recognized name from his widespread exposure at Alabama and that he’ll be playing a position where he can rack up a lot of statistics, and I believe the opportunity is good for Ragland’s play to stand out.
Spot-on analysis... now let’s take it a step further. Could Ragland contend for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award? Probably.
Although Peters and defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Sheldon Richardson have won the past three Defensive Rookie of the Year awards, a linebacker took home the award in 11 of the previous 13 seasons.
Schematically, as Brown noted, Ragland will be in a prime position to amass an impressive stat line playing behind a talented and deep defensive line that — and this is vital — will include a few two-gap players whose specific responsibility will be to keep blockers off second-level defenders.
Also, Ryan typically relies heavily upon two inside linebackers to play the overwhelming majority of the defensive snaps.
Whether it was Bart Scott and David Harris or Harris and DeMario Davis, Ryan didn’t use much of a rotation at the inside ‘backer spot during his tenure with the Jets. And, with because the Bills were so adamant about and aggressive in trading up for Ragland in Round 2, he’ll almost assuredly be a candidate to be on the field a great deal in 2016.
Sure, to start the season, Preston Brown may be the linebacker in nickel packages, but don't be surprised if Ragland is rarely, if ever leaving the field by October.
According to Pro Football Focus’ draft guide I purchased during draft season, he played 804 snaps during his final season with the Crimson Tide, so he’s certainly accustomed to shouldering a large workload.
NFL.com’s Marc Sessler recently slotted Ragland at No. 5 in his “Ten players who aren’t getting the attention they deserve” article, noting his likelihood to "start immediately” and describing him as an “old-school defender with some bite.”
Remember too... Doug Whaley hinted that Ragland will play weakside linebacker for the Bills as a rookie, and WLBs tend to stay on the field in obvious passing situations.
There will certainly be some stiff competition from other top rookies at different positions, but at linebacker, outside of Myles Jack, Ragland was probably the most well-known name in the 2016 class, and the former Alabama standout finds himself as an instant starter.
Your thoughts, Bills fans?