Playing out west for the University of Hawaii, not a lot of fans knew who Jahlani Tavai was after the Lions took him in last month’s NFL Draft. NFL talent evaluators knew who the versatile linebacker was, and Detroit didn’t expect Tavai to make it out of the second round when they were on the clock at pick No. 43.
The Lions used the 43rd overall selection on Tavai, and see him as a moveable piece and a player who fits the size and trait characteristics they like at the position in their multiple defense.
Tavai said after Tuesday’s open OTA practice that he didn’t listen to any of the analyst opinions on him – good or bad – following the draft.
“Lions don’t listen to the opinions of goats, or whatever,” he said.
Tavai has brought that mindset with him to Allen Park. The only thing he’s worried about at the current moment is getting this defensive playbook down so he can begin to help that unit take the next step.
“First I have to learn the playbook,” he said. “I have to perfect that part. Other than that, I’m taking it day by day and wherever the coaches need me is where I’ll be.”
Lions GM Bob Quinn said after the draft that the team saw Tavai as a unique and versatile linebacker, one who could play the run, could rush, could blitz and could cover.
Tavai, (6-2, 250) was dominant his last three seasons at Hawaii. He recorded 19.5 tackles for loss, 129 total tackles and seven sacks as a sophomore in 2016. He ranked 10th in the FBS with 124 tackles and led Hawaii with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a junior in 2017. He missed five games last season due to injury and a one-game suspension, but still finished with 82 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked kick in eight starts.
The Lions value bigger linebackers in their scheme, players like Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard and Christian Jones. They value players who can set the edge and get off blocks. Those are fundamental principles in their scheme.
Tavai’s size and movement skills stood out in Tuesday’s open OTA practice. As he learns the playbook and gets more comfortable with his roles, the play speed is expected to increase even more.
“I’m just one of the puzzle pieces to our organization,” he said. “Like I said, I’m just trying to take it day by day.”
Tavai said the veteran linebackers who learned this scheme last year have been good about showing the young guys like himself the ropes. But he also stressed taking on the responsibility to learn the playbook on his own.
Tavai seems to have the right mindset of taking one day at a time and immersing himself in the playbook. Those things not only earn the respect of the vets, but also usually allow rookies to see the field sooner rather than later.