Detroit Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin didn’t hide from the fact that he played his rookie season as an undersized linebacker that needs to add strength to his frame moving forward.
“Me being an undersized linebacker, I always have to work on that,” he said of improving his strength after the season. “Just keep adding strength and weight and that’s something I’ll be focusing on in the offseason.”
How well Reeves-Maybin is able to accomplish that will likely play a big factor in the type of role he’ll have in the Lions' defense in 2018.
“Jalen’s really athletic,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn said at the NFL Scouting Combine last month. “He’s really instinctive. He’s a tiny bit undersized.
"Coming out of college he had a shoulder injury, so he wasn’t really able to lift his last six months of college going into the draft."
The Lions drafted Reeves-Maybin in the fourth-round last year after drafting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round. While Davis is the hammer, Reeves-Maybin’s game is predicated on speed and athleticism. Playing linebacker in the NFL is tough business, and durability is always an issue with undersized linebackers.
A former two-time 100-tackle linebacker at Tennessee, the Lions listed Reeves-Maybin at 6-foot, 230 pounds. He cut his teeth as a rookie as a backup linebacker and sub-package player, and got better as the year went on. Three of his four best graded performances by Pro Football Focus occurred in the final four games of the season.
The instincts and speed were certainly eye catching at times with Reeves-Maybin, but added strength will help him escape blocks and be better in the run game.
“I think this offseason is going to be really important for him in kind of developing his body," Quinn said. "He knows that. We’ve talked about that. And he’s a really athletic guy that can play in sub-defenses, he can play in base defense, so he’s a versatile guy.”
With veteran linebackers Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow and Nick Bellore all set to become unrestricted free agents when the league year begins March 14, Reeves-Maybin has an opportunity to step up and take on a bigger role next season.
What kind of shape he comes into the offseason program in, and how much he adhered to the Lions’ request that he add strength and muscle to his frame, will likely go a long way in determining what exactly his role will be.