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Chiefs Pro Scouting Series: Reggie Ragland

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The latest in Matt Lane’s Pro Scouting Series reviews the Chiefs’ inside linebacker.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One of the coolest stories and rumors going around right now (and credit to Gary McKenzie for the details) from a Brett Veach press conference is how the Kansas City Chiefs went about acquiring Reggie Ragland.

Last offseason, the Chiefs were in search for another inside linebacker to add to the roster, and one of their original calls was to the Dallas Cowboys for Anthony Hitchens, but the Cowboys weren’t interested in the move, presumably being unsure about Jaylon Smith.

A later phone call was placed to the Buffalo Bills inquiring about a different linebacker on the last year of his deal (Preston Brown or Lorenzo Carter, perhaps).

During their talks, the Bills threw out Reggie Ragland’s name and Veach, a big Ragland fan coming out of the draft, was on it like white on rice.

While the story of how he got here is pretty awesome, how did one of the Chiefs’ new fan favorites play last year?

Let’s flip on the film and find out!

Reggie Ragland: Linebacker

6’1” | 247 lbs. | Exp: 2 years

Key Skills/Traits

Read and Reaction

“Read and React” time is one of the most common traits referenced for linebackers in football, but what exactly does this mean?

The simplistic explanation of, “how quickly a linebacker is able to decipher the play and make a move towards the ball,” is technically correct, but it doesn’t provide any real information as to what a linebacker is doing. To continue keeping it simple but provide some context, this is what I’m focusing on in terms of “read and reaction” timing.

When reading the play, a linebacker looks to the triangle in front of him. That triangle consists of the nearest guard, the closest running back and the ball. As the ball is snapped, the first read is the guard trying to determine if it’s a run or pass and which direction the block is going. The following read is the running back to determine the direction his is moving, and finally, the linebacker watches the ball to help with any misdirection.

Once the keys have been read by the linebacker, the next step is to enact on those reads and do so quickly and correctly. The big thing for a linebacker in terms of reaction time is to trust the reads he made and begin to flow in the proper direction rather than trying to wait for the play to completely run its course before beginning to move into position.

As we get a general baseline for what is being referenced by “Read and React,” it’s sufficient to say this a strong point of Ragland’s game overall. While he’s not the most gifted athlete the Chiefs deployed at linebacker (even just last year), he was often the fastest of the bunch to the ball because of his ability to make his reads quickly and correctly. Ragland excelled at diagnosing zone runs and was often moving as soon as the guard he was keying began his drive block on the defensive lineman. He was able to showcase a solid bit of range as an ability to knife through gaps on these plays due to how quickly he was flowing with the run action.

On this outside zone, Ragland takes his first step as soon as he sees the bucket step by the closest guard. By the time the running back receives the ball, he already has his hips pointing at the aiming point and is ahead of the running back to that point. Ragland then attacks the pulling block with his inside leg/shoulder and keeps half man free to the outside, trying to force the inside cut into the pursuing linebacker.

The runner tries to take the ball outside and is met with the immovable force known as Justin Houston. The play, for Ragland, is made by how quickly he’s flowing to the D-gap of the offense allowing him to beat both the running back and blocker and force the engagement on his terms.

This is where reading the triangle can be super beneficial, as the running back initially shows a run to the weak side while the blocks show a run to the strong side. Ragland sees the near guard pull but also sees the down block by the center (this likely signifies a run and no need to get depth) and the near running back starts straight forward, leading to Ragland staying patient and on his toes while he mirrors the running back.

As soon as the fullback pulls across the formation, Ragland explodes in right behind him, now switching his focus to the halfback. He’s able to fly in behind the pulling block and pull the runner down from the backside of the run immediately.

Raw Score: 81.25 (Pro Bowler)

Tackling

A self-explanatory topic here that most people know the basics of. A few extra things to pay attention to when judging a player for their ability (not their production of) to tackle is the radius in which they can affect a ball carrier, do they limit yards after contact with their tackles, and do they know when to make the big hit and when to make the sure tackle. As a tackler, Ragland fairs very well both between the tackles and in space. When playing in traffic, he does a good job of remaining square with his target even as both players move laterally across the field. He keeps his center of gravity underneath him and ensures he brings the contact to the RB rather than waiting for it whenever possible. Being a bigger LB, Ragland uses that mass and power to limit broken tackles or even the RBs ability to fall forward while being hit and plays a big target to get around in the tight spaces.

Given his usage last year, Ragland wasn’t asked to make too many 1 on 1 plays out in space but the few examples that showed up he performed admirably. He does a good job keeping an aggressive angle as he approaches the runner and does the best he can to keep his balance and center of gravity underneath him. Given the nature of plays out in space like this, perfect balance isn’t always attainable but Ragland’s use of his arms and wrapping up when making contact makes him extremely effective at bringing the ball carrier down.

Ragland shows the ability to deliver a big shot when he can come downhill and get some speed behind his large frame but there were a few less incidences of it than one would like to see from a SILB. It’s not a must for a LB, even on the strong side, to be a big hitter but you’d like to see a player of his size and abilities come up with a few more big, “momentum turning” hits. Specifically, there were just a few plays that Ragland made the stop at or behind the LoS that he shot through the LoS but ended up wrapping up the RB and the play got blown dead without the RB going to the ground and that’s still great for the team, but converting those stops into the big hits can help set the table for the “attitude” we keep hearing about this off-season.

Raw Score: 78 (Pro Bowler)

Range

Range for linebackers can come from a myriad of different skills or traits (from straight line speed, to change of direction ability, to first step quickness, or even the ability to navigate through traffic).

The most common way many people think about range is from purely an athletic standpoint, focusing on speed or explosion. While those two things certainly provide a massive boost to range, they aren’t the only way to get there.

A slower player who reacts faster, takes a better angle and spends less time dealing with contact will often cover a comparable amount of ground as the faster player. These traits (also referred to as “instincts” or “smart football”) are where Ragland performs the best in terms of covering a wide range on the field.

This play is where we see which parts of “range” Ragland excels in.

Ragland quickly diagnosed the direction of the run action and rather than waiting for confirmation by the running back, begins to move down the line of scrimmage (LoS). Once he recognizes the running back, you see him mirror the running back’s posture (hip angle/aiming point), even as he encounters a block. Quickly disposing of the block with his hands and feet, Ragland relocates the ball carrier and matches his angle again.

This ability to read the field while on the move, as well as mimic the body angles of the running back, helps Ragland cover plenty of ground without having a blazing 40-yard dash time. Throw in the need to dispose of a block and still losing barely half a step, and this is equally as important as a 4.5 40. These same staples are translated to the passing game and defending the flats/curls, as well as zone coverage and getting to the proper depth on hook/seam routes.

There are times in which Ragland will begin pursuing an angle that his athleticism simply cannot match and he will forfeit extra yards as he has to adjust on the fly. This doesn’t show up a ton against the run, but if the opposing offense can isolate Ragland on an athletic pass catcher, it can run him to his limits as long as the protection holds up. The same can be said for athletic quarterbacks when they can get Ragland as the spy or the unoccupied zone defender. Usually he will do a good job funneling the quarterback to the sideline for a minimal gain, but there are times that a crafty runner can bait him into a more aggressive angle that he can’t hold with his top-end speed.

Raw Score: 74.75 (Above Average Starter)

Coverage

For coverage with linebackers, we are mostly focused on the baseline ability to play in underneath zone coverage, specifically reaching proper depth without taking eyes off the ball. If a linebacker can get out to the flat at a similar pace to a running back, get enough depth to slide under a dig or carry a tight end up the seam while knocking them off his path, there isn’t a ton more that is required to be capable in coverage. The bonus comes in when playmaking skills are introduced from these zone spots or the linebacker can take receiving running backs or tight ends in man-to-man coverage.

As far as the baseline requirements go, Ragland showed to be plenty adequate in coverage when tasked with simpler zone plays. He was able to quickly read the pass, got to proper depth underneath in breaking routes and passed off receivers while picking up new ones with ease. The snaps were limited and his snaps were almost exclusively flooding into the flat with the running back or dropping into a simple hook/curl/seam zones.

Ragland showed a good crossover step when working backward from the edge of the tackle box, keeping his eyes on the quarterback, but his pure backpedal needs some work making his “Mike” alignment drops a little more stiff. He also does a good job utilizing the five yards off the LoS to redirect players trying to work through his zone quickly to eliminate free pitch and catch plays.

This play doesn’t show a ton in terms of substance during the play but shows a general weakness that Ragland had at times last year. Ragland simply looks uncomfortable getting depth with his hips forward—he’s high in his backpedal and off balance. When he plants to change direction, he has to drop his hips and take an extra gather step because his base was high and narrow. Ragland was rarely asked to play in man coverage or passing downs in general, likely due to a subpar change of direction ability. As mentioned above, most of those snaps saw him drop back at a 45-degree angle or go all out into the flat and lacked some complexity you get with most three-down LBs.

Raw Score: 61.75 (Below Average Starter)

Accessory Skills and Traits

Stack and Shed

“Stack and Shed” is the scouting circles way of saying “taking on blocks.” The stack portion, specifically, refers to the defender engaging a blocker and stopping their momentum. Shed then refers to the ability to discard the blocker or maneuver around them. While it sounds simple, there is a ton that goes into properly stacking and then shedding a block.

Depending on the run action, the players specific alignment/rules for that run and the oppositions blocking scheme could require a defender to attack these blocks in different ways. There are times when brute force is used to create a cluster and others times hands should be used to guide the block into the position you want, as well as allow the player to be more reactionary off of the block.

In the pure sense of taking on blocks and beating them, Ragland is quite good. He has the power to engage the nastiest interior offensive lineman even while they pull across the formation. He rolls his hips under him and engages with good balance and often does so on his terms, catching the blocker at an odd angle decreasing their momentum.

A “Stack and Shed” technique is most often used in the gap the running back is trying to go through in order to funnel the running back to the help or to allow time for the help to arrive. What the special players do (and Ragland fits the bill in this case) is take those blocks in the gap but then discard them in that small window and still make the play himself. He’s more than capable of leading with his shoulder to stop momentum and create a roadblock but also excels engaging blockers with his hands and then using his hands to get off the blocks.

Earlier, we talked briefly about how Ragland attacked a block with his inside shoulder and leg and now we have a good example of him using his hands to control the block and squeeze the gap down.

You can see on this play Ragland is being directly accounted for by the guard who is trying to present the running back a two-way go off his backside. Ragland gets a wide base and delivers the better of the two punches to establish leverage, then redirects the guard to (Ragland’s right) squeeze the running gaps and eliminate the two-way go. This in itself is great as the running back is forced to run into the help linebacker. Keep in mind, Ragland wasn’t done and while controlling the block, he used a club move to disengage his inside shoulder and establish half-man leverage inside. Ragland essentially eliminated the space to run to his right and was in position to make a play on a run to his left while dealing with a 300-plus-pound guard.

Raw Score: 81.25 (Pro Bowler)

Versatility

Versatility can mean one of many things, so for this particular scouting report, we are referring to the ability of the player to play in multiple defense schemes in different linebacker roles and positions: playing in a 3-4 or a 4-3 or on nickel packages, playing MIKE/SAM/WILL or SILB/WILB.

There are multiple different positions for linebackers to play and different ways to use them. Their ability to play or not to play certain alignments and schemes can dictate the defensive scheme. To note, this is not simply looking at if the linebacker can play the run and pass, as those are graded elsewhere, but more so on being effective out of more alignments.

Ragland has not been used in multiple facets thus far in his Kansas City career. He is predominantly the strong side inside linebacker (SILB) in a base 3-4 package and occasionally the SILB in the Chiefs’ 2-4-5 nickel package. He’s equally capable of playing from the usual MIKE alignment when linebacker shifts are on and has no trouble dealing with plays away from him or toward his side of the field. Not often was Ragland seen lining head up over a tight end or on the true weak side of the formation (if there was time to shift the defense). Ultimately, Ragland was considered “tradable” in Buffalo after the Bills switched to a 4-3 defense as well.

Raw Score: 58.5 (Rotational Player)

Block Slipping

“Block slipping” is kind of the yang to the block shedding yin.

Both deal in the world of beating a blocker across from them. However, “block slipping” is done with the least amount of contact possible and usually while on the move. Block slipping has gotten a bad rap in the football world in reference to players running away from a play to come back to it, but that isn’t always the case. A quick hand slap and a little bend to go around a blocker (like a pass rusher) is a way to slip a block. Similar to the block shedding techniques, there are different ways to slip a block as well as right and wrong times to use them. Being able to do it is one thing, but knowing when you can’t is equally important.

Ragland, despite again, being a larger linebacker, is competent at avoiding blocks altogether when the opportunity presents itself. Ragland doesn’t do it with quite as much flexibility and burst as more notable linebackers; He does it instead with quick hands, good leverage, and great balance.

Playing mostly as a SILB there weren’t as many opportunities for him to completely avoid blocks as there were for him to take them on, but when he had the chance to do so, he fared well.

When you are the backside linebacker working across the LoS, there is often an offensive lineman trying to reach the second level and cut you off from the pursuit angle. This is one of those times in which avoiding the block all together is vastly better than engaging and then disengaging from the blocker.

Ragland starts the play with a good jump on the run action, then reduces his surface area with a dip of the shoulder and pins his arm around the offensive line to help make a tight turn. Bonus points for keeping his footing while being held and still making the play.

Raw Score: 68.25 (Average Starter)

Pass Rush

Finally, another completely self-explanatory trait, right? Mostly! How well is the LB at rushing the passer, and can they routinely slip through small gaps in protection, beat RBs or TEs in pass pro and time their blitzes well? There is a little more nuance to having the ability to slip right off a defensive lineman’s hip on a stunt or knowing the “dog” protocol if a running back stays in to block vs. leaks out to the flat.

Ragland was a solid blitzer coming out of college that wasn’t really showcased at all during his play time with the Chiefs.

Hopefully, that aspect of his game makes a resurgence this year being on the field for more passing downs because there is true untapped potential there.

Unfortunately, as it stands for last year, the only pass rushes Ragland got were off of “Green Dog” concepts, or when he’s responsible for a running back who stays in the backfield to block. On these plays, the ball was often out very quick and Ragland’s rush didn’t amount to much. However, he was very quick to recognize this assignment and take rush angles away from the free blockers. He was able to get some hurries on quarterbacks and a few more forced throwaways as quarterbacks scrambled outside of the pocket later in the year.

Raw Score: 65 (Average Starter)

Bonus Points: 2 Points

Ragland received a total of two bonus points for taking over as a leader/defensive playcaller his first season with the team and a willingness and success doing the dirty work that linebackers often are required, but usually don’t like to do.

Overall Score: 73.81

Grade: Above Average Starter

Quick Outlook Going Into 2018:

The talks of the offseason point to Ragland getting significantly more playing timing due to departures as well as what sounds like a change in defensive philosophy.

With that in mind, Ragland will have to show coaches a bit more on passing downs whether in coverage or as a pass rusher. Ragland has come out and said that he has lost about 10 pounds from his playing weight of last year which should help with his stiffness while changing directions and while in coverage.

If Ragland can maintain the same level of dominant box linebacker while expanding his role on passing downs, then his game will be taken to the next level.

Ragland should only continue to improve as a run defender as well as he sees more consistent snaps and gets more reps reading blocks while on the move.

Ragland’s leadership and work ethic could lead him to a big step up in his play and impact this year.

PSS Grading Scale

Score Range Grade
Score Range Grade
84.51+ All Pro Caliber
78 - 84.5 Pro Bowl Caliber
71.63 - 77.99 Above Average Starter
65 - 71.62 Average Starter
58.63 - 64.99 Below Average Starter
52 - 58.62 Rotational Player
45.63 - 51.99 Good Back-Up
39 - 45.62 Back-Up/Special Teams
32.63 - 38.99 Depth Player
26 - 32.62 Practice Squad
19.5 - 25.99 Camp Player