<
>

Reggie Ragland or Ekeziel Elliott for Jets? Mel Kiper explains

In his latest mock draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland to the New York Jets with the 20th pick. Oh, wait, you knew that already. On Monday, in a conference call with the national media, Kiper explained his rationale.

The Ragland choice is particularly interesting because Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott still is on the board in the Kiper mock. Kiper acknowledged that Elliott "would be a possibility" for the Jets, although he made it clear he's not a proponent of taking running backs in the first round. He also mentioned quarterback (Memphis' Paxton Lynch) and offensive tackle (Michigan State's Jack Conklin, if he slips a bit) as options.

Ultimately, Kiper opted for Ragland because he'd be "a hole filler at inside linebacker." Yes, there will be a hole, as the Jets are prepared to lose Demario Davis in free agency. But Kiper also raised a legitimate concern about Ragland -- his weight (259 pounds) and ability to function as a pass defender against the league's spread offenses.

"He's a thumper," Kiper 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). He was 259 at the Senior Bowl. You'd like to see that weight down a bit.

"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."

If the Jets ultimately deem Ragland a two-down player, he might not be worth a first-round pick. You can bet teams will be paying close attention to Ragland's weight and pass-coverage skill at the NFL scouting combine, which begins Tuesday.