Like many of you, my first reaction to the Detroit Lions’ selection of Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai was, “Um... who?”
That’s never the kind of first impression you want to have for a team’s high second-round pick. But just because he was low on most people’s radar doesn’t mean he’s doomed to fail or the Lions’ front office are idiots.
So let’s take a moment to cool down and learn a little about the newest Detroit Lion.
Yes, it’s an overused phrase, but it’s one that we know the Lions love. Tavai took a lot of snaps from the edge, but he considers himself an inside linebacker.
“I’m not sure, but from what I know inside backer was my primary position so I believe that that’s going to be where Day 1 starts,” Tavai said in his introductory teleconference with the media.
That means that Detroit could move both him and Jarrad Davis all over the defense to give opposing offenses some tough matchups.
There’s no doubt the Lions had a big need for a linebacker. Aside from Davis and Christian Jones (I consider Devon Kennard more EDGE than linebacker), Detroit has no viable depth on this team. Tavai fills Detroit’s most pressing need aside from guard and potentially cornerback.
Here’s the part where it’s going to be a tough sell on Lions fans. Just about every media outlet had Tavai as a Day 3 pick. NFL.com had him going in the fourth or fifth round. The Draft Network had him with a fifth-round grade.
BUT there were a couple of people who went against the grain. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had Tavai as his LB4 in this year’s class and had him with second or third-round value. The Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy thinks teams were hoping he’d drop to the third round.
Here’s a name rarely seen on draft Twitter that you’ll mostly likely hear on Day 2...@HawaiiFootball LB Jahlani Tavai. He was a favorite of the @seniorbowl before a shoulder injury kept him from participating. Many NFL teams are secretly hoping Tavai falls to them in 3rd round. pic.twitter.com/EtI1QJU6Ip— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 9, 2019
Even our friends at The Phinsider had with an early second-round grade. Here’s what they had to say about him just three days ago:
Tavai is a prospect I heard about a little over 2 months ago. After 2 games, I pretty much could see what type of prospect he is. Tavai is a 100%, aggressive, petal to the metal LB that flies to the ball. I think he averaged about 10 tackles a game last season. To add to that, he’s a 3-down LB also. He’s got good range and his awareness is impressive. He doesn’t let blockers take him out of the play and never gives up trying to shed them. Tavai will be drafted higher than most are expecting. I have a early 2nd round grade on him.
With a bunch of good corners on the board, reaching for a linebacker is certainly suspect. However, this is a pretty shallow linebacker class, and the Lions may not be able to address that position later in the draft.
Still, when you can only count on one hand the amount of draft analysts that had him going on Day 2, you have to question the value of this pick.
With the 43rd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Lions select Jahlani Tavai, LB, Hawaii.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019
Jahlani Tavai posted a Poor #RAS with Great size, Poor speed, Poor explosiveness, at the LB position. pic.twitter.com/INOYzIqdSC
Obviously, Tavai has good size for an off-ball linebacker, but those speed and explosion scores are definitely worrisome.
New Lions LB Jahlani Tavai put forth 31 total defensive stops a season ago. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/UBcD5a9qx7— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2019
Tavai is a brutal tackler that is a run-defender first. His instincts are above average and his form is solid. He’s got that rugby background that the Patriots have notoriously loved, and speaks to his tackling form.
However, some profile Tavai as reckless and his lack of athleticism, both in short-distance twitchiness and long-distance speed, will likely limit his effectiveness at the next level.
There was also an off-field incident with Tavai in 2018. He was arrested after assaulting a man who allegedly shoved a woman at a nightclub.
Tavai is coming off a shoulder injury, but given that Detroit brought him in for an official visit (according to Tavai himself), the Lions must feel comfortable with where he’s at medically.
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