Last night, the Detroit Lions surprised many folks—both fans and experts alike—with both their second and third round selections. The team did not choose to fill any of the three biggest remaining needs pointed out by our own Hamza Baccouche, and neither player chosen was on Alex Reno’s need-adjusted lists of best players remaining on Friday for the Lions.
Instead, general manager Bob Quinn used his picks on role-versatile defensive players with attributes that match the Lions templates: an underrated linebacker straight out of the Parcells-Belichick mold, and a hard-hitting team leader at safety similar to another relative unknown taken in 2018. The overall sense of the grades assigned to these lesser-heralded prospects (by the mainstream draft coverage, anyway) seemed to hinge on whether or not the analyst was already familiar with the new Lions or not. If the grader did not recognize the names, these picks were often deemed reaches; greater familiarity appeared to go with greater enthusiasm for the picks.
Pick 43 Jahlani Tavai
Jahlani Tavai in the 2nd round shouldn't surprise anyone. I gave him to the Patriots in the 2nd round in my mock. https://t.co/Rf46mIalrf— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) April 16, 2019
I love him. He flies around to the football. Nowadays you’ve gotta have a guy that can fly around and run and chase.
There’s also a real question about how fast Tavai will be able to adjust to play at the NFL level. It’s a big jump from Hawaii to the NFL, and the Lions needed to come away from pick 43 with an immediate contributor. It is far from clear that Tavai checks that box.
Stemming from his Patriots roots, Matt Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers. He has one in Christian Jones, but Jones is average on the field in a contract year—hence the selection of Tavai. What will be interesting is whether Tavai’s arrival impacts where the explosive but somewhat inconsistent 2017 first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis plays.
Tavai would be an interesting raw-tools-and-demeanor selection in the fourth or fifth round. He’s a reach here for a team with lots of needs on both sides of the ball.
I get that Matt Patricia wants versatile defenders on his defense, and Jahlani Tavai is certainly that. But you have to think the Lions could’ve moved down and still picked up the Hawaii product. Run-first linebackers aren’t exactly a hot commodity. Like the fit; I’m not so sure about the value.
Grade: We don’t know who that is.
Grade: Day 2 Loser
I can’t get behind a team spending the 41st pick on a player who ranked 94th on SB Nation’s board and 237th on Pro Football Focus’. Tavai produced a bunch weak numbers in pass coverage, by PFF’s accounting, and might not bring anything that special other than size. (He’s an impressive 6’2 and 250 pounds, with long arms.) Maybe this will work out well, but it’s not what you’d call a value pick.
Pick 81 Will Harris
Another advantage Harris has is his familiarity with the Lions coaching staff. Harris played under current Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni at B.C. and he should quickly be able to pick up the Lions defense. With the team constantly running multiple safety sets, Harris could see the field quickly.
The Lions play a lot of six-and seven-DB packages under Matt Patricia, making secondary depth and versatility a key component for this defense. Anyone in this scheme must have the ability to match up one-on-one in space, and the Lions hope Harris can do that, particularly against tight ends.
I like Will Harris, a lot actually. He is a move piece at safety that can just flat out fly. Can easily play the "McCourty" role in the Lions defense if he develops a bit.— Brett Whitefield (@PFF_Brett) April 27, 2019
In 2018 he played:
38.1 % at Deep Safety
30.9% in the Slot
27.4 % in the Box
He is an athletic safety who can bring a nice pop when he tackles. The Lions needed to get more athletic on the back end.
This is a very Patriots-like draft for the Lions. They’re taking their guys no matter where they may be on other teams’ boards. This is another reach, but Will Harris is a physical safety. He’s not great in coverage but he’s not a total liability. At best, he’ll develop into a poor man’s John Johnson, who is an impact safety for the Rams.
Harris is a toolsy prospect who timed well, but he’s a project who would have probably been on the board in the middle of Day 3. He’ll start his career as a rotation safety. The upside is there, but with lots of more polished safety talent on the board (Alabama’s Deionte Thompson is still out there, for heaven’s sake), this is a head-scratching pick.
Grade: Day 2 Loser
That was 81st overall, for a player we have in the 170s.