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NFL breakout players 2018: Reggie Ragland is the Chiefs’ monster in the middle

A do-it-all middle linebacker is an essential part of a good defense.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills selected Reggie Ragland in the second round of the 2016 draft, back when they were still running a 3-4 under Rex Ryan. With a switch to a 4-3 defense in 2017 and Ragland coming off an ACL injury, Buffalo decided to trade him to the Chiefs last August. In Kansas City, Ragland was back to playing in a familiar 3-4 defense and after being inactive the first three games of the season, he went on to start 10 of his 12 games last year.

He ended up with nine total tackles, playing almost exclusively on early downs. With longtime starting inside linebacker Derrick Johnson gone to the Raiders after the Chiefs cut him, I would expect Ragland to stay on the field for third downs a lot more this year.

Maybe the most impressive thing I saw about Ragland’s play last year on film was how patient he was playing the run.

There is a tendency at times for guys, especially young cats, to be so gung ho about making plays that they run too fast and allow the ball carrier to cut back behind them. It’s a double-edged sword, however, because in the NFL everybody is so fast that if you don’t haul ass, there is a good chance they will just outrun you to the edge of the defense. The tricky part is knowing when to accelerate and when to throttle down, and Ragland already seems to have that down pat.

Playing under control like that allowed Ragland to keep his feet up under him so that when it was time to make the tackle, he could really explode into it and lay the lumber. It was fun watching him be able to deliver those kind of PAAAIIIIYYYYYOOOOWWW!! hits without even having to build up a head of steam.

I was also impressed with Ragland’s ability to make blockers miss so that he can make plays on the ball carrier.

There is a time to try to blast an offensive linemen to clog a hole, but there’s also a time to side step them so you can make a tackle or a sack. Ragland played like an old vet when it came to making those decisions last year.

Hell, he looked really natural in pass coverage too on early downs. The more I watched him drop into coverage, the more I wondered why he came off on passing downs so much last season.

Now, being two years removed from that torn ACL and presumably all the way back to full speed, I think Ragland won’t just be a good starting inside linebacker for the Chiefs this season, I think he could just be the kind of monster the Chiefs haven’t had at that position in quite some time.

Confidence level: High