The Bills generally did not have quality play from their linebacking corps this past season. Manny Lawson was just OK, while Nigel Bradham struggled in Rex Ryan's scheme. Bradham went on to sign with the Eagles this offseason, so a replacement is needed. Reggie Ragland, one of the top players available, projects well to Ryan's scheme.
*** OTHER 2016 NFL DRAFT POSSIBILITIES: ***
1. Darron Lee, LB - Darron Lee is probably Buffalo's top realistic target, but the Falcons are likely to take him.
2. Jarran Reed, DT - The Lions have shown interest in Reed, but if they don't take him, Buffalo very well could.
Based off some information, I think Washington's pick could come down to Reuben Foster, Marlon Humphrey, Adoree' Jackson, Haason Reddick or Charles Harris. If Foster gets to the Redskins' pick, I think they would be thrilled as he is their first choice. After Foster, I think there will be a big debate between the others. I think the decision would then come down to Harris or Jackson. This is a deep cornerback draft, so Washington could lean toward the rusher with its first pick. Additionally, Harris is loved by teams for his football character, but he is the Plan B, I believe. I think the Redskins want Foster more than anyone else though and character concerns could push him down to them.
In 2016, Foster amassed 115 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two passes broken up. The 6-foot, 229-pounder came on strong late in the 2015 season for Alabama and had the game of his life in the National Championship against Clemson. He totaled 73 tackles with eight for a loss, two sacks and nine passes batted for the year. The light looked like it clicked on for Foster toward the end of the 2015 season as he was suddenly a different player. He carried that over into his senior year, when he was a physical force. Foster is a fast, athletic linebacker who can go sideline-to-sideline while also dishing out punishing hits when he gets there.
Rd. 1, Pk. 1
T.J. Watt, OLB/3-4OLB/ILB, Wisconsin
The Lions need to improve their linebacking talent and add an edge rusher to pair with Ziggy Ansah. Watt could play linebacker on run downs and rush off the edge in passing situations. Thus, he would help Detroit's defense in two spots.
Watt was one of the breakout players of the 2016 season. He is good at setting the edge in run defense and also is a terror in the pass rush off the edge. Watt recorded 63 tackles with 15.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, four passes batted and two forced fumbles in 2016. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder could be even better as he gains experience. Watt isn't the fastest or most explosive edge defender, but he is tough with advanced technique and a great motor.
The Raiders could use an upgrade at middle linebacker. Davis is an instant plug-and-play contributor for Oakland. His intelligence and character are a great fit with Khalil Mack and Derek Carr.
Davis collected 60 tackles, two sacks and four passes broken up in 2016. Davis was a strong inside presence who made a ton of clutch tackles for Florida in 2015. He was an unsung hero of one of the best defenses in the nation and was a beast who season in the SEC Championship along with the other late-season games against elite competition. In 2015, Davis totaled 98 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, an interception and 3.5 sacks.
The 6-foot-1, 238-pounder is fast, physical and instinctive. He has sideline-to-sideline speed with the athleticism to be a three-down defender. Davis could be a Mike (middle) or a Will (weakside) linebacker in a 4-3. He also could function on the inside of a 3-4.
The 49ers could use a linebacker upgrade, and Cunningham is a good value in the second round.
In 2016, Cunningham totaled 125 tackles with 16.5 for a loss, three passes batted and one forced fumble. The 6-foot-3, 234-pounder is a quick, instinctive linebacker who is a reliable tackler. He is a versatile player with the skill set to be a three-down starter in the NFL. There has been buzz about Cunningham in scouting circles, and teams are giving him late first-round/early second-round grades.
In 2015, Cunningham totaled 103 tackles with 16.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes batted and four forced fumbles on the year. He was only a redshirt sophomore that season and has upside to develop.
Rd. 2, Pk. 2
Raekwon McMillan, ILB, Ohio State
The Lions could use multiple linebacker upgrades from this draft class.
In 2016, McMillan was solid for Ohio State with 102 tackles, seven for a loss, two sacks, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder played well in 2015, totaling 119 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four passes broken up on the year. As a freshman in 2014, he played a lot for Ohio State and totaled 54 tackles with 2.5 sacks and a pick-six.
McMillan is a tough defender who has the skill set to be a three-down starter in the NFL. Right now, however, he struggles in pass coverage and needs to improve his ability to drop into coverage. McMillan is a physical, tough run defender at the point of attack.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Duke Riley, OLB/ILB, LSU
The Saints grab some linebacker competiton.
Riley (6-0, 232) was a backup before coming on as a senior. He had an impressive game against Alabama in 2016 and got better as the year progressed. Riley totaled 93 tackles with nine for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one pass batted and one interception for the season.
Riley is a fast and physical linebacker who would fit as a Will - weakside - linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Alex Anzalone, OLB/ILB, Florida
The Patriots could use more linebacker depth.
Anzalone was very impressive at times during the 2016 season, racking up 40 tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and two passes broken up. He barely played in 2015 because of a shoulder injury that led to a medical redshirt. Anzalone was a backup and had injury issues during his first two years as well.
While sources say that Anzalone is not real twitchy, sudden or explosive, he takes on blocks and uses his hands well. Anzalone is fast in a straight line, but not that quick. He lacks quick twitch change of direction. Anzalone is decent in pass coverage, but lacks good awareness in zone. He is viewed as a third- or fourth-rounder who could develop into a starting inside linebacker; however, there are major durability concerns from repeated injuries in college, so teams could flunk him medically.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Elijah Lee, OLB/ILB, Kansas State
The Chiefs could use more linebacker depth and a potential replacement for Derrick Johnson. Kansas City has shown interest in Lee.
In 2016, Lee recorded 110 tackles with 6.5 tackless for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and three passes broken up. The junior is a solid tackler with some athleticism. In 2015 as a sophomore, Lee had 80 tackles with three interceptions.
Lee (6-3, 228) was a surprise early entry into the 2017 NFL Draft. He was not invited to the combine.
Rd. 4, Pk. 4
Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU
The Bengals could use multiple linebackers as they have a few veterans entering free agency after this season.
In 2016, Beckwith totaled 91 tackles with six for a loss, one sack and four passes broken up. He played well in 2015 for LSU as a physical in-the-box presence. On the year, the junior totaled 84 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and a pass batted. As a sophomore, he had 77 tackles with three pass breakups, two sacks and an interception.
Beckwith (6-2, 243) was a strong tackler and good at taking on blocks in college. He needs to improve his pass-coverage skills for the NFL though, but teams really liked him before he got injured.
Rd. 4, Pk. 4
Anthony Walker, OLB/ILB, Northwestern
The Colts need to improve their roster all over the place. Here is some linebacker help.
In 2016, Walker recorded 105 tackles with 10 for a loss, four forced fumbles, two sacks, five passes broken up and one interception. Sources say they liked Walker (6-1, 238) more as a player in 2015. He was 20 pounds heavier in 2016, and sources feel that the extra weight severely degraded his speed and explosion.
Prior to his weight gain, Walker was a fast sideline-to-sideline defender. He functioned well in man coverage and was very dangerous in zone. Walker had a great 2015 season as he totaled 122 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four passes batted, one forced fumble and one interception.
Rd. 5, Pk. 5
Ben Gedeon, ILB, Michigan
The Giants grab a linebacker to compete.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Richie Brown, ILB/OLB, Mississippi State
The Ravens could use some inside linebacker depth after letting Arthur Brown leave.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Ben Boulware, ILB, Clemson
The Jaguars could use some inside linebacker depth given the age of Paul Posluszny and Myles Jack struggling as a rookie.
Rd. 7, Pk. 7
Tanner Vallejo, ILB, Boise State
The Panthers hosted Vallejo and could use some linebacker depth.
Rd. 7, Pk. 7
Eric Wilson, ILB, Cincinnati
The Rams get some linebacker depth with a player they hosted.
This is as great of a fit from both the value and need perspective as any other in the draft so far. I absolutely love what the raiders have done over the past few years and GM Reggie McKenzie finally got the Raiders out of cap hell as well as adding key pieces through the draft. Who would’ve ever thought that the Raiders would’ve been able to bring in key free agents like Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson without drastically overpaying really any of them. Players WANT to be a Raider for the first time in a while and I can’t say I blame them. Now, that’s not to say they are a great or complete team yet as they definitely have some needs, not the least of which is the middle linebacker position. This is where Reggie Ragland the linebacker out of Alabama comes in. Ragland is yet another stud coming out of Nick Saban’s Alabama defense. Ragland is as tough and instinctive as they come. He may not be as fast as some would like and he plays a non-glamourous position so he might actually fall lower than this, but to me he’s absolutely worth this pick, especially on this defense where he can focus on just being a hard-nosed thumper in the middle. Another one of my favorite picks in the draft and an easy one for me once the signings of Smith and Nelson helped shore up the weak secondary.
Before anyone freaks out, let me explain the thinking behind this pick. First of all, Jadeveon Clowney hasn't been anywhere near as good as Houston hoped when they drafted him first overall two years ago. To make matters worse, Khalil Mack just was named first team All-Pro at TWO different positions, and he was picked 4 picks after Clowney was. The idea of having Mack AND J.J. Watt on the same defensive line would be insane, and Texans fans must be sick to their stomach that they let that opportunity pass. Last season, the Texans made it to the playoffs despite having a C+ at best quarterback in Brian Hoyer at the helm and no Arian Foster. With Houston filling their QB need with Brock Osweiler and their running back need with Lamar Miller, look for Houston to take the best player available at #22. Jaylon Smith would be a top-10 pick if it wasn't for a nasty injury he sustained at the Fiesta Bowl, where he tore both his ACL and LCL. While Smith won't be able to play during the 2016 season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly deemed him "the best player he had ever coached" for a reason. The Texans are a playoff team who can afford to let Smith get healthy this year and add him to their defense next season after a year of rehab and studying the playbook.
After taking DT Billings with their previous pick, the Packers may want to take a LB here. There's not a ton of consensus on the ILB prospects. I was between LBs Deion Jones and Kentrell Brothers for this pick, but I think Kentrell Brothers makes the most sense for them here. He would start at ILB, shifting Matthews back to his more effective spot of rush LB (of course, he wouldn't be confined to this spot, but it could be his main spot).
Packers' previous pick: 2-12
Scouting report: Possesses elite instincts. Appears to head in direction of the play like he knows the play call. Extremely active and always on the balls of his feet and ready to hunt. Plays with an insane amount of competitive fire. Flows quickly to point with downhill action and looking to disrupt. Is often able to force cutbacks or alter the running back?s track. Can time snaps and shoot gaps making him a dangerous blitzer. His 2014 season, which included 163 tackles, 29 tackles for losses, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles, is widely considered the most productive for a linebacker in college football history. Explodes with hips into tackles and finishes with his feet. Play speed is faster than timed speed thanks to combination of instincts and burst to the ball. Shows plus lateral agility with ability to engage in, shed, or beat the block.
Other possibilities: Noah Spence LB, Taylor Decker OT
While the Packers draft a front seven defender early seemingly every year, they haven't panned out the way they'd hoped as of late. With the outside rushers seemingly stocked with recent picks like Nick Perry and Datone Jones, the middle linebacker position has been an area of concern. By taking Matakevich, Clay Matthews can remain as a rusher rather than having to move inside to play as the mike backer. Matakevich is an instinctive defender who reminds me a lot of Jamie Collins in his ability to be around the ball in both the run game and in coverage.
Wow. WOW. I can't believe this. Some teams had Jaylon Smith as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect because they believed there was a good chance that he would never be able to play in the NFL. There were some rumblings that he'd go at the end of the third round, but this is unreal. Maybe the Dallas doctors know something the rest of the league doesn't, but this pick could obviously really pan out. Smith could be a perennial Pro Bowler if he ever gets back to 100 percent. I'm giving the Cowboys a solid grade, but I can't go into the A range because of the enormous risk. I'd like this a lot better if Dallas took him in the third round.
Rd. 2, Pk. 10
Reggie Ragland, ILB
I had the Bills picking Reggie Ragland in the first round of my 2016 NFL Mock Draft, and had Shaq Lawson not dropped to them, it sounds like they may have taken him as high as No. 19. Thus, this is an incredible value for a very underrated player who can play all three downs. The Bills had to move up for Ragland, but rightfully so, since there were so many teams that could've taken him prior to No. 49.