Through two weeks of training camp, Ragland seems to be locked in a battle, not for a starting job, but for his roster spot.
Ragland saw extensive time with the Bills' third-team defense in Tuesday's practice, the team's final public session before their Thursday preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Veteran Gerald Hodges took Ragland's place at middle linebacker with the second-team defense, where Ragland had almost exclusively spent training camp before this week.
The apparent demotion is an ominous sign for Ragland. The highly touted prospect was a natural fit for Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme last season as an inside linebacker and was receiving first-team reps before he tore his ACL last August. He missed the entire 2016 season while recovering from the injury and did not participate in full-team drills until organized team activities in June.
Ragland, who made his mark as a physical, downhill thumper at Alabama, seems less at home in the middle of the 4-3 scheme run by first-year Bills coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Their system requires linebackers to play more in space, dropping into zone coverage and pursuing ball-carriers instead of clashing with offensive guards at the line of scrimmage.
A second-round draft selection by former general manager Doug Whaley 15 months ago, Ragland is joined on the third-team defense by a slew of players who are more realistically competing for jobs on the practice squad than the 53-man roster. Ragland also has not emerged on top special-teams units, where a pair of 2017 draft selections -- linebackers Tanner Vallejo and Matt Milano -- are expected to contribute this season.
If the trend continues for Ragland through the preseason, it would make sense for the Bills to test the trade market. Buffalo probably wouldn't fetch a second-round pick for Ragland and recoup the previous regime's investment in him. The more probable asking price for Ragland would be a mid- to late-round draft pick with some conditions on how much he plays for his new team.
The downside in trading Ragland would be the void left at middle linebacker next offseason when incumbent starter Preston Brown is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. If Ragland is not a fit in McDermott's defense in 2017, he might never become one. Instead, the Bills could look to the 2018 draft to attempt to find a middle linebacker in the hard-to-replicate mold of Luke Kuechly, who anchored McDermott's defense in Carolina.