Jahlani Tavai wasn’t drafted by the Detroit Lions just to play his own linebacker position.
The impact that Tavai’s physical makeup can have on the other linebackers in his unit was another consideration.
At 6-2 and 250 pounds – at least – Tavai fits the physical profile of bigger linebackers that general manager Bob Quinn wants to play in head coach Matt Patricia’s defense.
There is a lot of work and challenges ahead of him, but what Tavai has shown on the field as the Lions go through the second week of OTA practices indicates to linebackers coach Al Golden that the second-round draft pick from Hawaii is a good fit for the defense.
“He’s got the physical attributes that we look for,” Golden said this week. “When we set out every year, we’re looking for a prototype. He meets those standards for us.
“He’s a big man – 250 to 255 pounds. He can play on or off the ball. He’s a very intelligent guy, a communicator on the line of scrimmage. There are a lot of attributes that drew us to him.”
If those attributes translate to production on the field, it will expand what the Lions can do with returning starters Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard and Christian Jones, along with backups such as Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
“Like a lot of our guys, he’s versatile,” Golden said of Tavai. “When you have a lot of size and length, and you have agility to go with it, you can become versatile. For us, he has enough reach to play on the line of scrimmage. He’s like Kennard or Chris. That’s what draws us to him.”
There are exceptions, but size matters, and Tavai has it.
“For us, we make decisions basically with closed windows, if you will,” Golden said. “We’re really not concerned with the outside world. He matches what we’re looking for, and we’re excited to have him.
“There are very few guys in college that we’re looking for who are 5-11 or 6 foot who can go up and play against the tight end, or go up and play against the tackle. The tight end is 6-5. The tackle is 6-6. When you’re 255 pounds and have enough length to do that and yet maintain the ability to see if off the ball, that’s value. To us, it’s rare."
View photos from Day 3 of 2019 Detroit Lions OTAs on Thursday, May 23, 2019 in Allen Park, Mich.
Last year was a step-up season for the linebackers as a unit. That was particularly true of 2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis. He had six sacks, improved his pass coverage and overall awareness of the scheme and situations, and emerged as the leader of the defense.
Kennard, signed as a free agent after four seasons with the Giants, had a career-high seven sacks. Jones, also signed as a free agent, did not have eye-popping stats but started all 16 games and was a force against the run.
Reeves-Maybin is looking to rebound from a down season. Injuries limited him to nine games and 110 snaps after a promising rookie year.
“He’s a bright player,” Golden said. “He really is. He can play any number of different roles. He’s a very instinctive linebacker. I’m glad to get him back. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy.”