Ragland was Alabama’s defensive leader this season and made a name for himself nationally, earning unanimous first team All-American honors. He was also selected as the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, saying Tuesday he’s pleased with the decision to stay in school for a fourth season.
“I’m glad I came back,” Ragland said. “I’m a smarter football player and a better man at that.”
All accolades aside, his senior campaign proved valuable as many analysts expect him to be a first-round draft pick. Ragland’s former head coach Nick Saban, who made an appearance at Tuesday’s practice session, recently said he believes the linebacker is a top-15 pick. Ragland is doing his best to block out the noise and focus on making positive impressions on scouts and coaches.
“It feels great, but I have to put myself in a position to stay in the top 15 if I am a top-15 pick,” Ragland said. “There’s a lot of guys who could go in the top 15 or top 10, so I’m just going to make sure I’m in the same position as those guys.”
The Madison, Ala. native waited patiently for his time to shine for the Crimson Tide, spending most of his first two seasons playing on special teams. He also spent time behind Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosely before taking over as a junior in 2014.
“Coach Saban waits until we’re mature and he’s not putting us on the field until we’re ready to play,” Ragland said. “His defenses are NFL-type defenses and he’s not putting anybody out there until they’re ready. That’s one thing I appreciate about coach Saban. He made me grow up from a young boy to a young manm, so I’m very thankful for what he’s done for me.”
Ragland led Alabama’s defense with 102 total tackles in 2015 and exhibited his ability to stop the run and rush the passer from the middle linebacker spot. He enters this week hoping to show his versatility by spending time at the outside linebacker position.
“I played a little back at Alabama and I feel like I did a good job today,” Ragland said. “It will take another day or so to get used to it and settle down, but I think for the first day I did a good job.”
He said the biggest change is reading different keys. Instead of playing hook to curl in the middle, he is reading players coming into the flats. Based on pure athleticism, it’s only a matter of time until Ragland is fully comfortable on the outside. He’s also a high school basketball state champion and when reporters inquired about him being able to dunk in sixth grade Ragland replied, “Yeah, it’s true.”
If the last few years of Crimson Tide defensive draft picks is any indication of Ragland’s future, then he has a bright road ahead. He follows the footsteps of numerous first-round draft picks and current NFL starters. Saban’s defenses are famous for producing versatile, NFL-ready talent. A prime example is Rams safety
“I want to show that I can do everything,” Ragland said. “If they need me to go outside for a couple series I can do that. And if they want me to go inside I can do that. I want to show everyone I can do it all.”