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2018 Detroit Lions roster review: Can Jalen Reeves-Maybin recapture a defensive role?

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Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s play took a step back after his rookie year and he’s left fighting for a role in 2019.

Detroit Lions v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After the Detroit Lions drafted both Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin in 2017, the team thought they were building a strong linebacking corps that could learn and play together, growing into their respective roles and leading the team’s defense. Two years later, the entire defense is turned on its head. A different scheme can hit the linebackers hard, and the Lions switched to a scheme that didn’t favor either of their recent draftees’ respective talents. Despite some promising play from both in their rookie campaigns, their sophomore series saw the two heading in opposite directions.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Expectations before 2018

Jarrad Davis, the team’s first-round pick that year, had the higher highs and lower lows than fourth rounder Jalen Reeves-Maybin in 2017. Yet after their rookie year, many fans had higher expectations for the later pick than the former since he was consistently good whenever he saw the field. The issue, primarily, was that he saw the field sparingly. Reeves-Maybin was only a role player on the defense in his rookie season, often seeing the field in coverage when the team needed someone who could roll with tight ends or rushers.

Coming into 2018, the scheme change looked like it might hit JRM the hardest. He was far smaller than the other linebackers, and the scheme required the linebackers to be able to close gaps and hit hard. Durability concerns from college had bled into his rookie season, and if he was to have a shot at thriving in a new role, he’d have to first hold up to the rigors of increased responsibilities.

Actual role in 2018

2018 stats: 9 games (0 starts): 8 solo tackles, 13 total

PFF grade: 58.3 (not enough snaps to qualify for rankings)

Reeves-Maybin saw his role plummet in his second season. New head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni made no secret that they liked their linebackers larger and lengthier. With Devon Kennard taking on the pass rushing role at linebacker, Jarrad Davis shoring up the middle, and newly signed Christian Jones hogging most of the snaps, there wasn’t much room for a guy like Reeves-Maybin.

Though he struggled to find a role through the first half of the season, it wasn’t completely without promise. He wasn’t playing as well as he had as a rookie, but he still flashed the speed and rangy potential that made him a mid-round prospect in the first place. A neck injury suffered midseason would ultimately end his campaign and he finished the year on IR in early December.

Outlook for 2019

Contract status: Signed through 2020 season

The Lions retained their three starting linebackers from 2018, meaning Jalen Reeves-Maybin would have quite the climb to claim a starting role outright. Complicating matters is the Lions selection of Jahlani Tavai in the second round. While he’s not at the point he should start worrying about his roster spot being taken by a UDFA or anything like that, the likelihood of being off the Lions roster in 2019 is no longer 0 percent.

The change in scheme coupled with an inability to stay healthy have really hurt the chances of Jalen Reeves-Maybin having a large role on the Detroit Lions in 2019. Barring multiple injuries, he’s likely only seeing the field on special teams (a role he was expected to thrive in as a pro anyway) and in a limited role on defense.

Both of these roles actually suit the Lions perfectly at the moment as they have defined roles for those ahead of him on the depth chart, and we all know how much the staff value special teams.

Beyond 2019? If Reeves-Maybin can ball out on special teams like he has proven himself capable of, he could at the very least carve himself a niche that will be very difficult to pry him away from.