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Would Detroit Lions LB Jahlani Tavai have made it to the 3rd round?

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NCAA Football: Hawaii at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn has been under fire a bit after taking a surprising pick in the second round. Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai was an unheralded prospect by the media and a relative unknown.

Mostly everyone thought the Lions reached with this pick, as some experts didn’t believe he wasn’t going to come off the board until well into Day 3 of the draft. At the very least, some suggested, the Lions should have traded back and taken Tavai while picking up another draft pick.

However, Quinn disagrees.

“I’m pretty convinced that he probably wouldn’t have been there if we traded back, let’s say, 10 to 15 spots,” Quinn said on a Tuesday radio appearance with 97.1. “I think he probably would have been gone. Can’t say that for sure, because you never know.”

Quinn mentioned several times in the past few days that part of their pre-draft preparation involves gathering information on other teams: Looking at their roster needs, compiling each team’s scouting visits and the type of players they’re looking for. According to their intel, Tavai had a pretty good chance of being taken soon after Detroit’s second-round pick.

“We just felt there were teams right behind us that needed inside linebacker, had visited with Jahlani, had a workout with him,” Quinn told DetroitLions.com’s Tori Petry last week. “So we were getting a little nervous but fortunately we stood pat at that pick and ended up taking him.”

So who are these teams Quinn is talking about? Is he even telling the truth or did he get played?

The most obvious candidate is the New England Patriots, who obviously covet the same traits in a linebacker and were reportedly very involved in scouting Tavai. However, it’s interesting to note that two picks after the Lions selected Tavai, the Patriots actually traded up—something they rarely do—from 56 to 45 to take cornerback Joejuan Williams. They did not take a linebacker in this draft.

The Eagles were also a team rumored to be interested in Tavai. Linebacker was arguably the team’s most-pressing need headed into the draft. They happened to have the 21st and 25th picks in the second round, making them a likely candidate to grab Tavai, if their rumored interest happens to be true. However, they went offense with both picks and did not draft a linebacker the rest of the way.

Other likely teams include those running similar defenses to the Lions and Patriots: the Dolphins, the Titans and Texans.

The Dolphins didn’t have a big need at linebacker, but they may very well be the team Quinn was talking about. Check out this piece of evidence from a month ago:

Miami is going through a similar defensive transition to Detroit and are likely looking for a new brand of bigger, stronger linebackers. Having hired former Patriots linebacker coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins seem like a prime candidate to have snagged Tavai had he still been on the board.

So what did the Dolphins do with their second-round draft pick, just five slots after the Lions?

They traded down.

Although that second-round pick would end up being the ammunition Miami used to trade for Josh Rosen, that certainly seems like somewhat convincing evidence the Dolphins had their player yoinked from them.

The Titans selected just eight picks after Detroit in the second round, going with Mississippi receiver A.J. Brown. Linebacker wasn’t a huge need for Tennessee, seeing as they selected interior linebacker Rashaan Evans with their first-round pick last year and Harold Landry with their second-round pick.

As for the Texans, again there wasn’t a huge need for a linebacker there, and they didn’t end up selecting one in this year’s draft. But with the 22nd and 23rd pick in the round, you never really know.

But overall, there’s considerable public evidence to suggest Quinn was right. The Eagles and Dolphins are the most likely candidates to have had serious interest in Tavai in the second round, with the Patriots being a wild card. Either way, it seems there was considerably more interest in Tavai than many had originally thought.