The Buffalo Bills continued the push to improve their defense by making Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland their second-round pick in the NFL Draft Friday night after moving up from the 49th to 41st overall spot in a trade with the Chicago Bears.
"We made a concerted effort to the defense, and I think we did it," General Manager Doug Whaley said, referring to the fact the Bills used the 19th overall choice on Clemson outside linebacker Shaq Lawson Thursday night. "We would have taken this guy 19. That lets you know how high he was on our board."
The 6-foot-1, 247-pound Ragland said he was "very thankful and blessed" to play for Rex Ryan, believing he will put him "in a position to be successful on the field. ... He's a great defensive-minded head coach."
Whaley said Ragland would start at inside linebacker next to Preston Brown.
"We'll have two guys that are defensive players that play football well," Whaley said. "I think a lot of people think (Ragland) is a true 'Mike,' but we feel he can play 'Will.' And with Preston at 'Mike,' I think we've got two physical linebackers that fit our defensive scheme (that we're trying to build in Buffalo. And that's tough, physical players."
The Bills gave the Bears their fourth-round pick this year and their fourth-rounder in 2017 to land Ragland.
One thing the Bills' top two picks have in common is medical issues. Lawson's stock was believed to have dropped because of concerns over a shoulder injury he suffered as a freshman. ESPN has reported that he eventually will need surgery, but Lawson said that wasn't true. Ragland was found to have an enlarged aorta during a medical examination at February's NFL Scouting Combine. Whaley said the Bills' medical staff had no concerns about it.
"I didn't know anything about it until I got to the (Combine) and they ran some tests and they said I was fine," Ragland said. "I still went to a specialist after the (Combine) to see if I was fine and she said I was fine."
In 53 games career games at Alabama, Ragland was credited with 222 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception, and four forced fumbles.
Despite Whaley's excitement over being able to get Ragland in the second round, most NFL scouts see the former Crimson Tide standout as a solid, though not sensational, player. They generally believe that Ragland possesses ideal size and strength to be an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. His speed isn’t overwhelming (he ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 4.72 seconds), but he’s a good overall athlete who is strong at the point of attack, sheds blockers well and is an extremely good tackler who will sometimes make highlight-reel hits.
Ragland gets high marks for blitzing and does a decent job rushing off the edge. His lateral movement and agility are impressive, making him effective against outside rushers. He does a better job in zone pass coverage than man-to-man. He needs to improve his ability to anticipate plays, although his reaction is good.
“He’s a thumper," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "He’s a guy that, really in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, would’ve been a top-10 pick, guaranteed. But coverage ability is going to be something (to watch). How effective will he be in coverage in the NFL?
"We know he can get after the quarterback. You can move him around a little bit. He’s got some versatility there, but how he plays moving backward – not forward – is the concern with Reggie Ragland.”