With the NFL draft just a month away, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, scouting his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and explain why they’re slotted as such. As we head into the top 20, it’s time to look at an inside linebacker with the potential to do a lot more and a left tackle whose overall game seems to be a bit underrated.
20. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Height: 6' 1" Weight: 247
Bio: The 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the third defensive player in Alabama history to win unanimous All-America honors (Derrick Thomas and Cornelius Bennett are the others), Ragland developed into a sub-package pass-rushing threat last season, adding to his obvious strength as an every-gap run defender. His 2015 numbers (60 solo tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles) tell the tale and give an insight into Ragland’s impressive versatility. His run defense isn’t in question—at the combine, Ragland wanted to talk about his ability to defend in the flats and over the middle against tight ends and receivers.
“I know I can do it,” he said. “I’ve done it this year and showed people I can do it. So, it’s really just about getting out there and keep proving people wrong, because I know a lot of people think I might not can do it. I want to show people I have good hips, fluid hips, and I’m able to drop in coverage and attack people in space.”
If Ragland can do this on top of his run defense and burgeoning pass-rushing skills, he could be an every-down linebacker with All-Pro potential.
Strengths: Aggressive and sure tackler from the inside linebacker positions. Ragland reads and diagnoses blocking schemes well, shoots to the target and exhibits excellent wrap tackling technique when he’s not going for the kill shot. Avoids wasted movement to the ball—he’s generally a very efficient player. Will sift through trash and avoid fakes to make the tackle. Very good at slipping off blocks in the open field and maintaining his path to the target. Will extend his long arms quickly and with strength to keep blockers at bay and himself in the play.
As an edge rusher and blitzer, he has the upper-body strength to push and throw linemen outweighing him by 60 pounds. Comes out of his stance with a real burst to the quarterback and could be a real force on delayed blitzes from any angle. Can rush from a two- or three-point stance. Not incredibly fast in a straight line, but has the coverage experience and field sense to stay with screen and curl/flat receivers. Can cover tight ends up the seam on occasion. Experienced enough in zone and pattern-matching coverage to be a credible every-down linebacker. Times the jump well to deflect passes.
Weaknesses: As a pass rusher, Ragland relies more on speed and strength than advanced hands and movement through and around the arc. Needs better technique and an inside counter to win at the NFL level. Unless he goes to a team with a ridiculous defensive line, he’s going to face a ton more unobstructed blockers than he did behind and alongside Alabama’s esteemed front. Ragland tends to read the run too aggressively, which will leave him a step slow to adjust to the pass and play-action on occasion. Can be too easily thrown out of the arc when pushed first by linemen—doesn’t have a noticeable recovery gear. Struggles to stick with faster receivers from the slot on slants and other angle routes. Doesn’t easily win the leverage battle when blockers throw the first punch. Missed 10 tackles in 2015, per Pro Football Focus. Dropped from his 2015 playing weight of 259 pounds to 247, which may affect his strength as a run defender.
Conclusion: The pure inside linebacker has been devalued in the last decade as NFL teams go to more nickel and dime sets as their base defenses, but Ragland breaks from the typical ILB stereotype with his ability to play at multiple positions. He’s a natural fit with any 3–4 team as an inside guy who will move around in hybrid sub-packages, but he’d be just as dangerous as a moveable MIKE linebacker in a 4–3. Ragland will help to solidify his team’s defense from Day 1, and from there, it’s just a matter of how well he rounds out his ancillary skills.
Pro Comparison: Akeem Ayers, Rams (second round, Titans, 2011, UCLA)
19. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
Height: 6' 6" Weight: 308
Bio: Conklin was a preferred walk-on at Michigan State after receiving no major-college offers as a lightly-recruited high-school tackle, and he would have gone to Fork Union Military School until Spartans coach Mark Dantonio re-watched his tape and gave him a shot. He earned a scholarship during his redshirt season and started 13 games in 2013. Conklin improved his standing in ’14 and ’15, and he was one of the key cogs on the team that won the Big Ten title this year.
There’s no question that Conklin is NFL-ready. The son of a high school coach, he’s got the smarts, toughness and technique to excel in many different schemes. It’s where he’ll play that provides the drama.
“Quite a few teams [talked to me] about possibly playing the right side, and see how it goes into camp,” Conklin said at the combine about where he fits in the NFL. “We’ll see how it goes. A lot of teams have projected at least starting off at that right side. I think it just comes with athleticism. ... I think after they watch my times and see how I perform [at the combine], they’ll be surprised. Hopefully, that helps them think this guy can play left tackle, too.”
Conklin ran a 4.98 40 at the combine, tied for second behind Indiana’s Jason Spriggs for the best time among all tackles. His 2.92 20-yard split was the second-best at his position, and his 1.76 10-yard split tied for third. He also placed third in the shuttle and three-cone drills and put up a respectable 25 reps in the 225-pound bench press. The point was for Conklin to prove that he’s more athletic than people may assume, and he did that at the combine just as he does on tape.
Strengths: Gave up just one sack in 2015. Tough, aggressive, controlled player who blasts out of his stance and does a lot of pure mauling. Will occasionally just throw defenders to either side, including Oregon’s DeForest Bucker and Alabama’s Reggie Ragland. Displays power in two- and three-point stances, and maintains his upright stance even when bulled back. Creates a wide base at the snap and uses leverage very well to physically dominate. Has the upper-body strength and play awareness to strike a first defender and then turn to block a second one. Has a bigger kick-slide than people give him credit for and is able to push and strike through his arc—he’s not just a maintainer. Can flare out in tackle pulls and puts his arms on the target in open space. Mirrors very well through the arc as long as he has his feet under him and isn’t asked to recover quickly.
Excellent blocker in run and run-action: latches on, pushes back, and pinches inside to the defensive tackle with authority. Will rag-doll bigger, taller players at times. Has a longer wingspan than top-ranked tackle Laremy Tunsil (35 inches to Tunsil’s 34 1/4) and knows how to use it. Dropped his weight from 320 last season to 307 at the combine to be more agile, and he shouldn’t lose too much power with less weight on him thanks to proper technique.
Weaknesses: Conklin’s raw athleticism is a concern. He isn’t especially agile at the second level, and he does struggle to get up to top speed. Will lunge and stumble when trying to block targets at linebacker depth. Could find it a real problem to re-set and recover against quicker NFL pass rushers with upper-tier hand moves and inside counters. Could have issues with faster twists and stunts in the pros. Occasionally has trouble keeping his shoulders square when kicking back in pass protection.
Conclusion: There are those who insist that Conklin will have to move to right tackle right away and stay there, but I’m not so sure. His pre-combine weight loss indicates that he’s aware of his agility shortcomings, and some of those issues can be solved with the right kind of technique work. Ideally, Conklin might be one of the best right tackles in the game, but he could also kick over after a season or so and turn himself into a top-shelf blind side protector in the right scheme. He’s probably not going to get that gig in a high-percentage passing game with spread elements, but power teams that use a lot of run-action could do a lot worse the Conklin.
Pro Comparison: Brandon Scherff, Redskins (first round, 2015, Iowa)