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Kiper’s first mock: Bama LB Reggie Ragland to Bears

It’s that time of year again: ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has the Bears taking Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland with the No. 11 pick of the first round of the NFL draft. The 6-2, 252-pound senior was a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide and the defensive leader on their team that won the National Championship last season. Ragland was Alabama’s leading tackler and their defensive play-caller last season.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Kiper provided a rundown of Ragland’s strengths and weaknesses. The highlights: Ragland is a run-stopping inside linebacker with leadership ability and “tremendous, tremendous” intangibles who is comfortable in the 3-4 defense and would be a “plug-and-play” guy at inside linebacker.

Kiper’s rundown:

“A guy who can really, really handle the run responsibilities and be a great leader. He’s a run-stuffer. He’s got good range. He’ll be a guy who works out very effectively. Coverage ability is OK. It’s not great — you saw that exposed a bit in the national championship game. Tremendous, tremendous intangibles; all the physical qualifications you want.

“Like to see a little bit improvement in coverage. But he’s a heck of an inside linebacker. It’s a need area for [the Bears]. A couple of young guys … [John] Timu showed promise. But overall, he would fill a void there as an inside linebacker, can step right in. This is a team that had [Dick] Butkus, [Mike] Singletary and [Brian] Urlacher. He’s very comfortable playing in that 3-4 — that’s what he played in at Alabama. I think he would be a plug-and-play type of guy at the inside linebacker spot.”

Though Bears general manager Ryan Pace said he would draft a quarterback in the first round if he found one he liked, Kiper indicated it is unlikely there will be a quarterback at No. 11 who would tempt the Bears, given their other needs.

“It’s a good question,” Kiper said. “Earlier [in the season] I said when [Cutler] was injured, ‘You’ve got to get a quarterback.] After the way he finished, I don’t know about that. [With] the 11th pick, do you take a guy like Jack Conklin [Michigan State offensive tackle], who could be a major addition to your line? Do you look at Reggie Ragland, to be the leader of that defense from an inside linebacker spot? Or do you go with a quarterback?

With California junior Jared Goff currently expected to be off the board at No. 11 (Kiper has Goff going to the Browns with the No. 2 pick), Kiper said the Bears’ best first-round options at this point of the process would be Paxton Lynch of Memphis or Carson Wentz of North Dakota State.

The more likely quarterback scenario for the Bears would be in the second round or lower, Kiper said: Dak Prescott of Mississippi State; Connor Cook of Michigan State; Christian Hackenberg of Penn State — all of whom could become first-round picks after the pre-draft process concludes.

“An interesting late-round pick to me is going to be Brandon Allen from Arkansas — did a great job there. I think he’s a late-round pick that can play in this league. We’ll see where Cody Kessler from USC ends up. I would go more late Day 2, early to mid-Day 3 option rather than the 11th pick overall.”