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Free agent profile: Is Jalen Reeves-Maybin the linebacker Detroit wants to invest in?

After a season where plenty of linebackers auditioned for a spot on Detroit’s defense, did Reeves-Maybin earn the role?

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

On Thursday, Jeremy Reisman kicked off our 2021 Roster Review series when he profiled edge rusher, Charles Harris. Today, we take a look at another player from the Detroit Lions defense set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Expectations heading into 2021

Before the start of the 2021 season, Brad Holmes had made a couple of modest investments into the linebacker position when he signed Alex Anzalone to a one-year contract worth up to $1.75 million, and moved up in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select Derrick Barnes. But before those moves, Holmes signed Reeves-Maybin to a one-year contract worth up to $2.3 million thanks to some heady work by Holmes to use the veteran salary benefit to entice the linebacker into a return. But veteran Jamie Collins was the only linebacker on the depth chart, aside from the newly signed Anzalone, who had recorded significant snaps recently at the position, so Detroit’s second-line of defense was top-heavy, and its depth relatively untested.

Heading into this season, it seemed like Reeves-Maybin was in line for a role that wasn’t too dissimilar from the one he had played up to this point in his career. One of the longest-tenured Lions on the roster, Reeves-Maybin primarily played special teams for Detroit since being drafted by former general manager Bob Quinn in 2017—and he did a damn good job of it. Reeves-Maybin had totaled just 685 defensive snaps over his first four seasons, but the Lions would soon find themselves shuffling the deck when it came to the linebacker position, and Reeves-Maybin would be thrust into a much different role than many had anticipated.

Actual role in 2021

15 games (11 starts): 82 tackles (4 for loss), 4 passes defended, 1 QB hit, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

PFF grade: 55.8 (29th out of 57 qualifying linebackers—at least 50% of defensive snaps)

The departure of Jamie Collins, an injury to Alex Anzalone that put him on the shelf for the final two weeks of the season, and the easing of rookie Derrick Barnes into the lineup created plenty of opportunities for Reeves-Maybin to step up and show what he can provide at the linebacker position—and in a variety of different ways.

When Collins was inactive for Week 3’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, Reeves-Maybin immediately saw his playing time at linebacker increase. By Week 5, he was promoted to starter, and when Anzalone was placed on injured reserve, Reeves-Maybin was wearing the green dot and relaying signals to the rest of the defense.

With all the added responsibility, Reeves-Maybin did a commendable job in his first year playing significant snaps at linebacker, but it wasn’t all perfect. According to Pro Football Focus, Reeves-Maybin had a respectable number of defensive stops (32) for how many snaps he played, but he also had the sixth-highest missed tackle percentage (16.1 percent) among qualifying linebackers. His numbers while in pass coverage, albeit a limited sample, were encouraging, however.

The question is: did Jalen Reeves-Maybin do enough in this one season of play to prove he’s more than just a special teams ace and a viable contributor on defense?

Outlook for 2022

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

The answer to that question appears to be “yes” after both head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn spoke to the development and success they saw from Reeves-Maybin over the course of the 2021 season.

“Reeves has to play 72 plays and he’s the green dot and he played all out,” Campbell said after the Lions' victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. “It wasn’t perfect, but I’ll tell you what, the guy made a ton of plays for us. And so, that’s a credit to him.”

“Man, that guy is a football player,” Glenn said in late December about Reeves-Maybin. “The thing is, he loves football. You clearly see that when he’s on the field. Anytime you have a player of that magnitude, you can’t help but just put them on the field and you can’t help but just play them.”

But Glenn doesn’t just think Reeves-Maybin belongs on the field, he thinks of the veteran as someone who can be the Lions starting inside linebacker.

“I’ll tell you this, he has the capabilities to be that,” Glenn said. “He’s a free agent, right? Any of our guys that are free agents, we’d love to have those guys back. Obviously, we want the player back. There’s no doubt about that because he is a good player. Anyone of our players that are free agents, we want them back. And if he does come back, he’s definitely going to get a chance to be that starting inside linebacker.”

It’s obvious the coaching staff loves the player, and since Holmes found himself in this position a year ago and decided to re-sign Reeves-Maybin, it seems like a return is likely. But after showing his ability to play the linebacker position in an audition year, you figure he’s earned himself a pay bump and some contract security. It’s difficult to project exactly what that looks like, but from the sounds of it, Reeves-Maybin is the kind of linebacker this coaching staff wants on their defense.


Should the Lions re-sign Jalen Reeves-Maybin?

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