After being selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round, here’s how relative unknown linebacker Jahlani Tavai can make a name for himself in Motown.
When the eleventh pick in the second round of the NFL draft rolled around, many Detroit Lions fans wanted the team to draft a high-profile defensive player still on the board, such as cornerback Greedy Williams and linebacker Chase Winovich.
Instead, general manager Bob Quinn ignored these popular names and trusted his team scouts, picking a prospect that seldom casual Lions fans had ever heard of in linebacker Jahlani Tavai.
Many draft gurus thought that Quinn and company reached on this pick, as he was projected as a possible fourth or fifth round pick by NFL.com. Picking Tavai earlier than expected is why the Lion’s Day Two picks were not graded well, as the selection got a C+ from Sports Illustrated and a collection of C’s and D’s by other so-called experts.
There’s many reasons why Tavai was projected to go in the middle of the draft. He was sidelined for the last month of his senior season with a shoulder injury. And he missed the season opener as well due to a June arrest at a Honolulu night club after he allegedly started an alteration with a man who pushed a woman to the ground according to police.
While the Inglewood, CA native may be injury-prone and could possibly possess a few behavioral issues, the one thing that Tavai is exceptional at is tackling, and he has the statistics to prove it.
Tavai especially excelled in his last three years at Hawaii, as he posted 128 tackles his sophomore year, 124 his junior year, and 82 in his final season in only eight games. Those numbers his sophomore and junior placed him in the top 10 in FBS in tackles, as he was also able to accumulate 16.5 sacks and two interceptions in his four years as a Rainbow Warrior.
These stellar numbers, high football I.Q., and solid leadership skills on the field allowed Tavai to amass a few awards. He led the Mountain West Conference in tackles in 2016 while earning a first-team honor, second-team all-conference in 2017, and an all-conference honorable mention in 2018.
Head Coach Matt Patricia has always loved taller, physical linebackers in his defensive scheme. Which is exactly what Tavai is, as he stands at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. He has drawn size comparisons to New England standouts such as Dont’a Hightower and Mike Vrabel.
While the Detroit returns all three of last year’s starting linebackers in Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Devon Kennard, there is very few depth in the position, as Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa were both sidelined with injuries by the end of last season.
At the very least, Tavai provides depth in a crucial position group for the Lions, as he can be a playmaker in special teams while also pushing for Jones’ starting spot, who was average at best in the 2018 season.
As evidenced in the below highlight package put together by the Lions, Tavai is a versatile player and a tough individual. Those are the two qualities that Quinn and Patricia value the most in their players.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where Jahlani Tavai was drafted, as long as he can end up being a valuable cog in Matt Patricia’s defense. The kid’s got grit, and could be a man to fear by NFC North running backs for years to come.