Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin has had a slow start to his career with the Detroit Lions. In a sink or swim year, can he find a role on a reworked defense?
When the Detroit Lions began to rebuild their linebacking corps following the 2016 season, the needs were clear. A obvious lack of speed, durability and above all, playmaking begged for some talented young players to join the unit. The Lions struck there twice in the 2017 draft, adding Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin to the position group.
Davis was selected in the first round to headline the new linebacker crew. He has had a uneven first two years in Detroit, but he really came on towards the end of the 2018 season and the arrow would seem to be pointing up for him approaching 2019.
The same can’t be said for co-linebacker Reeves-Maybin, one of the the Lions’ two fourth round picks in the same draft. Despite a solid career at the University of Tennessee, Reeves-Maybin was fighting an uphill battle before even hearing his named called. A series of injuries cost him most of his 2016 college season and has certainly made his development slower than the Lions would have liked.
At six feet tall and 230 pounds, Reeves-Maybin doesn’t necessarily fit the size profile of the Lions’ top three players at the position in Davis, Devon Kennard and Christian Jones. So far in Detroit, Reeves-Maybin has been primarily a special teams player; only 36% of his snaps came on defense in 2018.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia’s affinity for versatile defensive backs and nickel packages on defense often comes at the expense of traditional three or four linebacker sets. Hence, Reeves-Maybin is still facing the difficult task of cracking the regular rotation in the defensive front seven. He just hasn’t shown enough yet to warrant the coaches’ trust. Additionally, he ended 2018 on injured reserve after a neck injury, sending him further down the depth chart.
Aside from his special teams capabilities, Reeves-Maybin has some of the same skills as Davis, yet to a lesser degree. He is at his best when his is moving forward in between the gaps created by the Lions’ powerful defensive line. However, he just doesn’t have the same hit strength or finishing ability as Davis, rendering him somewhat of an afterthought in critical defensive situations.
A constant theme of the Lions offseason roster adjustments this year has been the search for playmakers on both sides of the ball. For good reason too; the Lions forced just 14 turnovers in 2018, second from the bottom in the NFL. In his limited career snaps, Reeves-Maybin has totaled just 0.5 sacks, one forced fumble, three tackles for loss and zero interceptions. Just not enough production to warrant regular playing time.
At this point, Reeves-Maybin is no lock to make the 2019 roster. He clearly has special teams value, but the Lions have other players at his position with whom he may be battling for such a role. Also, the Lions have yet to seriously address the linebacker position in free agency and in a thin draft for the position, they may look elsewhere with their picks, putting more pressure on the incumbents.
But anything is possible from now until September. Keep tabs on Reeves-Maybin as the offseason program begins this month for the Lions. He will likely need to have an eyeopening series of workouts and organized team activities to hang onto a roster spot.
The Lions’ linebacker depth is currently underwhelming, and a big leap forward from their former fourth round pick could help turn it into a strength. Besides, his Lions tenure just may depend on it.
Do you think that Jalen Reeves-Maybin can carve out a legitimate role on defense for the Detroit Lions in 2019? Let us know in the comments section below.