Will Reggie Ragland be available for the Green Bay Packers at No. 27?
That is the biggest question ahead of tonight’s first round of the NFL draft. But it’s not the most intriguing. The most intriguing?
If Ragland were available, would the Packers actually take him?
“Yes” seems like the obvious answer. It was to me in our second Scout.com mock draft. I looked at my “best available” list, saw Ragland, and made the pick without giving it a second thought.
Perhaps I should have given it a second thought.
“Are Barrington and Ryan great? No,” a scout said of the before-the-draft projected starting tandem of Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan. “But you can’t win with that D-line.”
Would Ragland provide an upgrade at inside linebacker? No question, the answer is yes. Ragland is an excellent prospect, but the strength of his game is stopping the run. What are the strengths of Barrington and Ryan? Stopping the run. The Packers need an inside linebacker capable of playing coverage in the third-down dime package. Can Ragland be that guy? Well, he was used as a pass rusher on 103 snaps last season at Alabama, according to Pro Football Focus. Doesn’t that say something?
So, here’s the question: While Ragland probably would emerge as the best run-stopper and pass-cover inside linebacker on the roster, would he be such an upgrade over Barrington or Ryan that he’s worthy of using the first-round pick, even if you have to get a coverage specialist later in the draft?
Meanwhile, the Packers have a gaping hole on their defensive line — which just happens to be GM Ted Thompson’s poorest position, when you look at his track record. Because B.J. Raji’s not going to play and Mike Pennel is suspended for four games, Josh Boyd — a decent rotational player who missed almost all of last season with an injury — is projected to start at defensive end. And there isn’t a single backup on the roster who played a snap last season.
Now that’s a problem — a far bigger problem than mixing and matching Ryan, Barrington and Joe Thomas based on the situation.
So, where do the Packers turn if defensive line is the priority?
Letroy Guion provides some position flexibility, having started at nose tackle in 2014 and defensive end in 2015. But Guion’s best spot is at nose tackle. With Guion under contract for the next three seasons, the Packers might be better served drafting a big defensive end to complement short-but-explosive standout Mike Daniels. Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler seem like the best options and one or both should be available at No. 27. Neither are three-down players today but both, especially the 20-year-old Robinson, could develop into that kind of all-around player down the road. Or, they could go with Alabama's Jarran Reed or Baylor’s powerful Andrew Billings at nose tackle and go with Guion and Pennel at end.
For you-know-whats and giggles, here’s how I see the draft playing out:
First round: Regardless of whether Ragland is available, and I don't think he will be, anyway, a defensive lineman. For the sake of my annual “you were wrong” prediction, I’ll guess Robinson over the other D-linemen and Oklahoma State elephant prospect Emmanuel Ogbah.
Second round: Why not double up on defensive linemen if there’s a pass rusher available? Or, in lieu of an all-around, every-down inside linebacker, who might not exist at pick No. 57, would Thompson take an undersized linebacker, like LSU’s Deion Jones or USC’s Su’a Cravens, or one of the big safeties, such as Duke’s Jeremy Cash or Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew, to fill the dime role? Looking ahead to potential 2017 roster needs, a pass-catching running back who won’t get Aaron Rodgers killed, guard or outside linebacker would make sense, too.
Third round: If the Packers bypass Ragland, one name to remember at inside linebacker is Utah State’s Nick Vigil. He’s got good size (6-foot-2 3/8, 239 pounds) and he can move (led the inside linebacker group with a 4.00-second clocking in the 20-yard shuttle, a drill that measures change-of-direction skill). It was against lesser competition, obviously, but he ranked sixth in the class with 5.3 yards per target and 10th with a 61.1 percent completion rate. He’s also one of the best tacklers in the class (144 tackles and nine misses for a rate of 16.0 that ranked fourth). The Packers had a formal interview with him at the Combine — something they usually don't do for a senior.
Some names that would fit in the second or third round at the five biggest positions of need:
Defensive line: Mississippi State DT Chris Jones, Florida DT Jonathan Bullard or UCLA NT Kenny Clark (if any of them tumble because of the overall strength of the position); Penn State NT Austin Johnson, Illinois DT Jihad Ward or Ohio State DT Adolphus Washington; pass-rushing DTs Javon Hargrave of South Carolina State or Sheldon Day of Notre Dame.
Inside linebacker: Vigil, Schobert, Clemson’s B.J. Goodson, Ohio State’s Joshua Perry or one of the aforementioned big safeties/small linebackers. Goodson might not be a three-down backer but, like Vigil, he’s a name worth remembering.
Outside linebacker: Boise State’s Kamalei Correa (outside), Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell (outside), Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert (outside or inside), Penn State’s Ryan Nassib (elephant) or BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi (elephant).
Running back: Utah’s Devontae Booker, Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon and Notre Dame’s B.J. Prosise.
Guard: Missouri’s Connor McGovern, Arizona State’s Christian Westerman, Oregon State’s Isaac Seumalo, North Carolina State’s Joe Thuney, Washington State’s Joe Dahl or San Diego State’s Darrell Greene. Other than Westerman, all played left tackle at one point last season.
Whatever the order, don’t be surprised if the Packers take a total of five (or more) outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. The sheer numbers on the roster demand it at inside linebacker and defensive line, and outside linebackers/elephants Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Datone Jones will be free agents next offseason.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.