Indianapolis — Lions general manager Bob Quinn and coach Jim Caldwell were among a group of people who spoke with former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland during a formal interview Friday night at the NFL combine.
Many people consider the 6-foot-1, 247-pound Ragland the top inside linebacker in the draft, which makes him a potential target for the Lions with the 16th pick in the first round.
The Lions released Stephen Tulloch this month, and with Tahir Whitehead set to become an unrestricted free agent, it’s unclear who will play middle linebacker next season. For now, Josh Bynes is at the top of the depth chart, but the Lions will surely address the position in free agency, the draft, or both.
Asked on Wednesday what he looks for in a middle linebacker, Quinn listed “instincts, read-and-react, quickness, power (and) tackling.” Ragland thinks he has many of those traits, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the three-down linebacker Tulloch was before a knee injury in 2014.
“The three-down linebackers in this league right now are pretty rare,” Quinn said. “It’s very role-specific now in the NFL, so if you have a three-down linebacker, that guy’s going to be a high draft pick or you’re going to have to pay a lot of money for him.”
In order to be a three-down linebacker, a player needs to be able to play the run and have the ability to cover and rush the passer. The Lions have one such guy with DeAndre Levy on the weak side, but the team has rotated players in the middle the past couple seasons.
Ragland showed up to the Senior Bowl weighing 259 pounds. He said the extra weight came from eating too much in the week after Alabama won the national championship. Even though teams didn’t say much about his weight, he still worked to shed pounds before the combine, eating a low-carb diet with lots of chicken, fish and vegetables.
At the Senior Bowl, Ragland played some as an outside linebacker, hoping to prove he could be a three-down player in the NFL. But after talking to teams at the combine, he said it’s clear he’ll be staying in the middle.
“A lot of teams like me playing off the edge, but they’d love to see me being a true MIKE making all the calls,” he said.
When the linebackers work out, Ragland said he wants to prove he has fluid hips in coverage, which will help against tight ends and running backs. With seven passes defensed last year, Ragland thinks he proved he could cover, but now he has to show he can do it in the pros.
“If a guy’s just a third-down linebacker, well, he’s going to have to have speed and coverage ability and the ability to rush the passer or blitz,” Quinn said. “If he’s a first- and second-down player, then he’s going to play the run with the things I talked about — the instincts, the power, the tackling. So, those three-down linebackers are hard to find.”