MOBILE, Ala. -- University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban recently provided his official stamp of approval for his top linebacker. According to Saban, senior Reggie Ragland deserves to be a top-15 pick in this year’s NFL draft.
A top-15 selection could make Ragland the first linebacker off the board. It’s a thin and somewhat unpredictable draft class at the position. Some top prospects -- such as Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith and UCLA’s Myles Jack -- have injury concerns. Others, such as Ragland, must prove their versatility and ability to play all three downs.
That is the biggest reason Ragland is in Mobile to participate in the Senior Bowl. A natural middle linebacker, Ragland is practicing mostly at outside linebacker in front of NFL scouts and general managers this week.
A successful week could open up a lot of options for Ragland, particularly with linebacker-hungry teams such as the Miami Dolphins. Ragland was a leader of the impressive front seven that led the Crimson Tide to the national championship.
“I want to show that I can do everything,” Ragland said. “If they need me to go outside and play a couple series, I can do it. If they need me to play inside, I can do it. I want to make sure I show everybody that I can do it all.”
Ragland is currently No. 14 on Mel Kiper’s big board. His size (6-foot-2, 252 pounds) is ideal for the next level, but Ragland must prove he’s athletic enough to work in space on the perimeter.
This week will be an adjustment period for Ragland. During Tuesday’s first practice, for example, he was beaten to the flat by a running back for a short pass and reacted too late.
“Just looking at it and reading my keys, because my keys are different,” Ragland said. “So once I get it down, just keep looking at my keys and being consistent about that, I’ll be all right.”
Ragland could have been a first- or second-round pick last year as a junior but elected to return to school. He won a title with Alabama and said the decision “made me a smarter football player and a better man at that.”
The Dolphins, who have the No. 8 overall pick, could look to fill a void at linebacker. Ragland, Smith and Jack are all options for Miami at the position.
“It feels great, but I have to put myself in position to stay in the top 15 if I am a top-15 pick,” Ragland said. “There’s a lot of guys that can go top 15 or top 10. So I just want to make sure I put myself in the same position as those guys.”