Tavai’s attributes that Quinn covets
The second way that we looked at this issue of understanding the pick of Jahlani Tavai is by working up a profile on players drafted to play a similar position and considering where they were drafted. The comparisons that would seem to hold the most value would be looking at Trey Flowers, Donta Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy. All three excelled in the Patriots scheme as combo edge and off-linebacker types.
Tavai didn’t test very well in what he did do but he also skipped tests that likely would have made him look better, based on the film of him playing. Tavai excels when asked to play downhill, just going after a ball carrier or in coverage over the middle where he isn’t asked to stay on a man for too long, like in zone coverage. His change of direction and hip flexibility are both good.
Of the three players mentioned above all ran their short shuttle, 20 yards, between 4.20 (Van Noy) seconds and 4.64 seconds (Hightower); Tavai was dead in the middle almost matching Trey Flowers (4.40)at 4.41 seconds. This test measures the ability to change direction in a short space.
The first ten yards of a draft hopeful’s forty-yard dash is called their ten-yard split, which is a key figure used to measure an athlete’s burst and functional speed. Some positions, like wide receivers, also look at the twenty-yard split, too, because these are distances commonly traveled in one play. Forty yards, by contrast, is more than most players ever run in one single play but a great time can indicate if a player has an additional ability to accelerate to another speed over distance.
We covered that to say that Tavai’s forty-yard dash and split times were underwhelming but a 1.7-second ten-yard split and 4.86-second total are probably considered okay by the Detroit Lions staff because the split time is within a range that is acceptable for their evaluations. Most edge or off-linebacker candidates timed in the 1.58 to 1.66-second range but four one-hundredths of a second is pretty close.
Other measures of explosion by a football player are the vertical jump and the broad jump which test a player jumping from a standstill either straight up or forward. Tavai’s vertical jump was 33.5 inches and his broad jump was nine feet, two inches. In these events, Tavai bested everyone but Flowers (36.5 inches) in the vertical while his broad jump was the lowest of the four players by two inches.
One of the more interesting things stated by Quinn after the draft, besides that he doesn’t need sideline-to-sideline speed at inside linebacker, is that he likes thicker linebackers with longer arms which help them take on blocks. Quinn was specific that there are not many prospects each year who fit their desired body type, as well. So, in studying Patriots players we can make some observations about both arm length and wingspan that should help us quantify exactly what the weight and length requirements are.
With our three test cases, each is between 250 and 265 pounds, with Tavai being close at 246 pounds. In terms of arm length, the players were between 31 5/8 inches and a 77 7/8 wingspan (Van Noy) and 34 1/4 inches with an 84 1/2 wingspan (Flowers); Tavai was measured with 32 3/8 arms and a 79 3/8 wingspan, once again in the middle of the range.
The other factor to remember is that not all of the prospects were drafted as high as Tavai, though. Hightower was taken at pick 25, Van Noy at pick 40, and Flowers at pick 101. They are not the only players on the Lions or Patriots rosters who fit these basic requirements, though.
A total of fourteen players on both the Lions and Patriots rosters compared favorably to the profile above and play a hybrid, edge, or off-linebacker position.