After drafting potentially four linebackers at the end of the 2020 draft, the Giants still decided to add veteran depth to the position group during the 2021 free agent cycle. This is a smart move for a few reasons; for one, New York parted ways with veteran linebacker David Mayo.
Secondly, outside of Tae Crowder, who was the last of the linebackers selected, none of the other three added a significant impact at inside linebacker--Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin found roles at the depleted EDGE position.
Ragland will be filling the void left by Mayo’s departure, and I would contend that Ragland is an upgrade over Mayo. Ragland, who attended the University of Alabama from 2013-2015, has ties with Joe Judge, who previously coached for the Crimson Tide.
Ragland won a Super Bowl title with the Kansas City Chiefs; he had two sacks, 30 tackles, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in that season. He has 212 total career tackles, 14 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 42 pressures.
He played his 2020 season with the Detroit Lions, where they used him a bit more as an EDGE rusher; he’s very stiff and doesn’t have that much athletic ability, but his hands have some pop, and he can hold the point of attack adequately.
Patrick Graham likes to mix and match his personnel so that linebackers would play on the edge every now and again, and Ragland can do that on running downs (but it wouldn’t be wise on passing downs). Ragland is more of a two-down type of linebacker, more fit for 1990s football.
He’s 6’1", 258 pounds, his weight up from the 247 pounds he registered at the combine. He’s never been the best mover in space, so passing down situations may not be his forte. However, he brings value to early-down work and makes running back’s pay with his pop.
Let’s get into this version of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.
(Reggie Ragland is No. 59.)
The Good: Punisher
Ragland is known for his punishing hits on opposing ball carriers while doing a very good job fitting the run and acquiring STOPS (a PFF stat that measures unsuccessful offensive gains). He had 18 STOPS in 2020, which speaks to his run defending ability (more on that later), and 84 in his career.
Here we see the patience of Ragland to wait and bait Aaron Jones (33). The running back attempts to evade but can’t because Ragland sees his run keys before dropping to a far depth with his zone responsibilities. It’s obvious the hit power Ragland possesses can force fumbles and make some running backs a bit leerier.
Ragland is an adequate overall athlete, but he shows a suddenness to explode downhill in this clip. His burst on moving vertically is solid, and it allows him to close width quickly and deliver hits like the one we see above. Then there are plays like the one below.
The Washington receiver gets stood up and attempts to break tackles only to be planted by Ragland in pursuit. He lowers his shoulder and explodes through the receiver’s body to make the player think twice about getting cute with the football in his hands.
MORE "GOOD, GREAT & UGLY" BREAKDOWNS
WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney
The Great: Run Defense
Ragland keys and diagnoses the run above well by reading his run keys--the back-side guard. He reacts well once he sees the double teams forming in front of him. Ragland waits to see if the running back can get through the traffic in the interior gaps but then flows to the natural hole to make an easy tackle on the running back.
The blockers don’t get a hand on him in this play, but he’s putting himself right where he needs to be; there’s a miscommunication of sorts on the offensive line, and someone doesn’t take him. Amid that miscommunication, No. 61 can’t get to him, and No. 64 over pursues. If Ragland had been a step slower mentally, then-No. 61 would have been able to block him out of the play.
Ragland moves with the flow of the play initially and then takes his outside arm and tosses the center to the ground; he then sees the cutback lane and dives at the running back, making a hard physical tackle alongside some of his teammates.
This is a short-yardage, high leverage, red-zone opportunity for the Vikings, and Ragland puts himself into the best position to halt the rushing attack. Plays like this make me feel much more comfortable with the possibility that Ragland may see snaps on this Patrick Graham defense.
I, by no means, believe that Tae Crowder is a lock to start opposite Blake Martinez. Ragland is an upgrade over Mayo, and the latter was forced to play 194 defensive snaps last year for various reasons. I can see Ragland playing more under Graham, especially if Crowder makes mental errors.
The Ugly: Coverage
In his career, Ragland has surrendered a catch rate of 77%. He has been targeted 80 times and given up 62 catches for 406 yards while allowing three touchdowns with no PBUs, and two interceptions.
Stats like a high completion percentage aren’t overly uncommon for a linebacker because so many check downs in zone happen and are attributed against the linebacker, but having no PBUs, and struggling with moving backward are reasons that Ragland has struggled overall as a covering player.
This play is indicative of Ragland’s lack of mobility when attempting to cover from a stationary position. Any type of choice route, or route that forces Ragland to flow downhill laterally, gives advantages to the offense if the receiving player decides to use Ragland’s change of direction, stop/start, and overall athletic ability against him.
When Ragland is on the field, I expect that Graham will get creative with his five-man pressure packages and employ Ragland as a Blitzer from time to time. He’s more than capable of being a wrecking ball that can pressure the quarterback; Ragland had 21 pressures in Matt Patricia’s defense last year.
Overall, Ragland is a sure tackling option who does a good job in a phone booth when he isn’t tasked to move a substantial distance with his athletic ability. He may always be a liability in coverage, but he has value on early downs and can be used effectively to blitz from the linebacker position.
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