Detroit Lions moving on from smaller, lighter guys on defense
The surprise selection of linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round by the Detroit Lions illustrates the importance scheme fit for the current regime.
One of the biggest surprises in the 2019 NFL Draft for fans of the Detroit Lions was the selection of Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai. In fact, NFL.com Columnist Adam Schein called the second round pick of Tavai a big-time reach and even referenced a billboard in the Motor City that once read: “Rebuilding since 1957”. Ouch.
Still, the Lions’ front office stand by the selection of Tavai. It’s all part of their grand plan to find players better suited for second-year head coach Matt Patricia’s multiple defense that he brought with him from his time as the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator.
The Pats’ two-time Super Bowl-winning defense under Patricia thrived with big-bodied linebackers like Dont’a Hightower (6-3, 260), Jamie Collins (6-3, 250), Jerod Mayo (6-2, 230) and Brandon Spikes (6-3, 250).
At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Tavai fits that mold. And also remember the kinds of free agent linebackers the Lions brought in last season. Both Devon Kennard (6-4, 256) and Christian Jones (6-3, 244) have similar measurables.
But what does that mean for smaller linebackers like Jarrad Davis (6-1, 238), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (6-0, 230), Garret Dooley (6-2, 227), and Steve Longa (6-0, 240) in 2019? Here’s what Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn told 97.1 FM The Ticket during a radio interview about the kinds of players that they believe best fit this defensive scheme.
"“There’s some players that are good enough to play in any scheme, but some of the smaller, lighter guys that kind of play sideline to sideline really don’t work in this defense. You have to kind of move on from those guys and try to reinvent what you’re doing up front when the coaching staff changes and the coaches want a certain type of player to execute the scheme.”"
Quinn did mention Jarrad Davis as a player he believes can play in any scheme noting his flexibility, so the former first rounder sounds safe. As for others, their time in Detroit may be running out. As for Tavai’s high draft selection, the Lions’ honestly believed the big-bodied linebacker would not have made it out of the second round.
We all knew the head coaching change that took place in the Motor City last year would result in several roster changes. And that process continues to be a work-in-progress even into Year Two. Obviously, the Detroit Lions have a strong conviction about what they value from their defenders to fit into this unique scheme. So it should be no real surprise if those choices seem to go against the grain at times.