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Reggie Ragland mini-review: What can the Chiefs expect from their new LB?

Let’s get right to the point: the Chiefs traded for Reggie Ragland, a former second round pick and a guy widely regarded as a very good ILB prospect coming out of Alabama.

At the same time, the Chiefs released Josh Mauga, who was competing for snaps at SILB against Ramik Wilson and was arguably the only thing close to the “thumper” at ILB the Chiefs currently have.

I know mostly zilch about Ragland, not being a college football guy. However, he DID play a significant number of snaps against the Vikings in the first preseason game, so that gave me a chance to watch him a bit. Obviously, this is preseason against backups, so it doesn’t tell us much at all. I’m looking for two things: traits that could lead to a useful player, and whether or not Ragland looks healthy (a concern, as he missed all of his rookie reason due to injury).

Let’s start with health. Ragland looks perfectly healthy to me. It should be worth noting that while Ragland’s defensive snaps went way down after the first preseason game (which I don’t QUITE get, as we’ll discuss shortly), he continued to play plenty of snaps on special teams. This wasn’t a health issue in my opinion.

I’ll show why I think he’s healthy and start talking about his potentially useful traits in the same GIF for efficiency’s sake.

Again, that’s not an unhealthy player there. It’s additionally not a guy that screams cut bait in my eyes, regardless of the fact that this is against second or third stringers.

Ragland is absolutely a guy who can help a team out against the run if my brief review of his film is any indication, particularly between the tackles. He brings to the table a certain decisiveness against the run, demonstrated above, that allows him to achieve contact with (or blockers) at or behind the line of scrimmage. He’s extremely aggressive and doesn’t wait for the play to come to him. That’s a big deal when defending interior runs. And he demonstrated it more than once or twice.

While this snap isn’t an overall win for Ragland (gotta finish!), he again demonstrates quick recognition and decisiveness against the run. He appears to be able to diagnose where runs are going almost immediately, which allows him to attack rather than react.

An additional trait I saw from Ragland in limited action is the ability to both engage and shed blockers.

With the current group of ILBs the Chiefs have, the only one who has demonstrated the ability to shed offensive linemen once they’re engaged is Derrick Johnson. Ramik has been more willing to take guys on at the point of attack this preseason, but he’s still not a guy you often see shake a blocker once he’s engaged.

Ragland, on the other hand, repeatedly demonstrated the ability to directly shed or slide off blockers without being affected by their impact.

Some ILBs are drastically affected by offensive linemen who reach the second level, which is reflective of the difference in weight and strength. Ragland is big enough and strong enough to keep from getting overpowered at the point of attack, which allows him to stay on course here to stuff the runner before he can get to the goal line.

These are the primary positive traits I saw from Ragland in this EXTREMELY limited viewing: recognition, decisiveness, physicality, and the ability to shed blockers. He also shows an understanding of where he’s supposed to be in coverage, both zone and man, though he’s (in my opinion) not a good fit for either due to lack of speed.

So, about that lack of speed...

Any time Ragland is forced into more of a pursuit role, whether it’s in coverage or against a runner who manages to start going horizontal on him, it’s not pretty. Ragland lacks even average speed and quickness at the position in my opinion. The only time he looks fast is when he’s exploding downhill. In those situations he looks to have good burst, but I believe that’s more a result of his decisiveness than actual speed.

That lack of speed is, in my opinion, quite likely why the Bills no longer have any use for Ragland. When he was drafted, they played 3-4 defense, which allowed for a thumper role that could hide speed deficiencies. However, the Bills switched to a 4-3 this season, and it appears based on my quick review of their defense that they want all their ‘backers to be able to move in coverage. That’s just not Ragland’s game. He gets depth in his zone drops and does a good job seeing receivers entering his zone, but he’s just too slow to EVER be in man coverage in my opinion.

At any LB position in the 4-3, Ragland’s inability to go sideline-to-sideline was going to be a glaring weakness. As a SILB in the Chiefs 3-4 defense? That’s another story entirely.

And here’s where things get interesting. If someone were to say what the Chiefs were looking for next to DJ, pretty much anyone who has followed the team would say, “a bigger, physical linebacker who will attack gaps without hesitation and who can take on and hold off or shed offensive linemen at the second level.”

They wouldn’t say anything about being good in coverage, or being able to defend sideline-to-sideline. Because honestly, that’s not what the Chiefs need in that spot.

So really, you’d be describing a guy who possesses all the same strengths Ragland demonstrated in my (again, INCREDIBLY brief and against second and third teamers) review of his play, and the weaknesses he showed would be of negligible importance.

It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. Could be nothing. Could be a desire to have SILB insurance in case DJ gets hurt and Ramik Wilson needs to slide into the WILB spot again this year. Or it could be one of those cases where all a guy needed was a scheme change to fulfill some of his considerable potential coming into the NFL. Either way, it’ll be interesting to find out.

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