“He is in the best shape of his life.”
That phrase has become a cliche around the NFL this time of year. Players are hyped as the reenter the team facility after some new workout regime or some new diet that’s sure to take their game to an entirely different level. Most fans have caught onto this headline-grabbing phrase and learned to ignore it.
But with Detroit Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai, things are a little different. Last week, Tavai revealed that former Lions head coach Matt Patricia had him playing at 268 pounds. He would often play on the edge, while also also to play off-the-ball and run sideline-to-sideline at that weight. The results were as you’d expect, and many buried Tavai as a bust.
This year, he’s an entirely different kind of linebacker. He’s down to 247 pounds—and 19 pound loss since his heaviest point under Matt Patricia—and he’s being asked to get down to at least 245. That’s not just being in better shape, that’s a complete transformation of body type.
It’d be one thing if Tavai simply shed pounds. That doesn’t necessarily make you a better football player. However, coaches have been impressed with how he’s looked as a linebacker through the first couple weeks of on-field activities—specifically his speed, which was viewed as his biggest weakness.
“He’s moving well,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said last week. “He’s another guy that is catching my eye, as far as guys who can run.”
“To be as big as he is—now he did lose a lot of weight—but to be as big as he is, he can move fairly well. That was good to see, a man of that size that can move like that. Then, his ability to bend and get out of cuts, that was pretty impressive.”
So this begs a few questions: Does Jahlani Tavai still have a chance to play a significant role on this defense? Does his weight loss and a slight positional change (less edge work, more off-ball linebacker play) give him a chance to revitalize his career?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Are you buying the Jahlani Tavai hype?
My answer: Not quite yet.
I do believe everything the Lions are doing will benefit Tavai in the end. Asking a 268-pound linebacker to play sideline-to-sideline just made no sense for Tavai, and his play off the edge was unfamiliar and unsuccessful. Instead, asking Tavai to play a similar position at an almost-identical weight to his college career makes a ton of sense. The Lions are absolutely doing Tavai right by challenging him to get where he would need to be to even have a shot on this team, and to Tavai’s credit, he seems to be putting in the grunt work to get there.
However, weight loss will not suddenly make Tavai a sideline-to-sideline player. When Tavai ran the 40-yard dash at his pro day, he weighed 246 pounds—one more than his current target weight in Detroit. He clocked in at 4.86, with splits all in the bottom 40th percentile. His explosion scores were also well below average.
With pick 43 in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Lions selected Jahlani Tavai, LB, Hawaii.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 12, 2019
He posted a Poor #RAS with Great size, Poor speed, Poor explosiveness, at the LB position.
He will be pushing to start at one of the LB spots for the Lions in 2019. pic.twitter.com/gUeQlSd5db
I do think the game will slow down for Tavai, and he’ll look a lot more capable than he did last year. It’s also important to remember there was a point in his rookie season when Tavai was trending upward. With Detroit’s lack of depth at the linebacker position, it would not surprise me to see Tavai make the final 53.
But the truth is Tavai was drafted to be a big, strong linebacker whose frame could add the 20 extra pounds that he did. Given this new regime’s preference for speed, it’s fair to say they would not have drafted Tavai had he come out this year.
In other words, I think Tavai has to become a player he just isn’t to make an impact on this team. He’s on his way to transforming his body, but believing he’ll transform his entire game is a bridge too far for my offseason optimism.
Do you believe the Jahlani Tavai hype?
This poll is closed