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Bob Quinn explains why Jahlani Tavai is a ‘rare’ natural fit with Detroit Lions

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The Lions gave a little insight as to why they found Jahlani Tavai so valuable.

NFL: Combine Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Four years from now, we’re all going to be looking back on the Detroit Lions 2019 draft with a specific focus on one pick. Detroit’s second-round choice of Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai will be the sink-or-swim pick of this class, not only because it was considered a bold choice, but because a second-round pick is serious investment in a player.

On Friday night, Lions general manager tried to rationalize the pick to an admittedly surprised media room.

“Linebackers that play in this defense that are very, very good natural fits—there’s only a couple every year.” Quinn said. “You wait a year, you don’t get one, you might not get him next year, you might not get him the year after.”

But what makes Jahlani a natural fit in this defense? At the time, Quinn offered a brief explanation, saying Tavai’s thick body type and versatility make him ideal for the scenario, but not much beyond that.

However, Quinn went into further detail after the NFL Draft was over during a great interview with DetroitLions.com’s Tori Petry on Saturday night.

“I think in college football what’s happening is the faster athletes are getting asked to move to play linebacker, so usually the faster guys are a little bit smaller,” Quinn said. “So, obviously size is a big thing with our linebackers. We like bigger, thicker guys that weigh 240 to 255 pounds. Some of the guys that are a little bit lighter than that, a little bit, let’s say, faster, really don’t have a great role on our base defense. College football is going in the other direction, where it’s smaller, lighter, faster. And I think the NFL is still a big-man’s game, so the bigger linebackers are just harder to find.”

It’s no secret that Tavai fits that physical mold:

(Note: Coming off a shoulder injury, Tavai did not participate in the NFL Combine or his pro day. He completed these drills at a separate pro day late in the draft process).

He’s not that speedy, but that’s not what the Lions are looking for. They want bulk, they want arm length and they want that monster wingspan that Tavai has.

“I think his wingspan is as tall, as big as some of the guys who are 6-4, 6-5,” Quinn said. |If I remember correctly, I think he has an 82- or 83-inch wingspan—which is pretty rare for that position.”

While many believe the NFL is actually headed in the opposite direction that Quinn claims—where speed and agility are king—there are certainly some examples of the guys Quinn likes succeeding at the next level. Unsurprisingly, the New England Patriots’ defense is littered with players in this mold, and that would explain why they, too, were reportedly interested in Tavai.

Obviously these players have slightly better overall athletic scores and in the case of Ninkovich, he comes from an earlier era, but the profile is clear. The Lions want big and long, and that is becoming increasingly rare from the NFL draft class.

Did that force the Lions to overdraft a raw prospect? Maybe, but only time will tell if ti was worth it.