Lions take 'battle tested' LB Jarrad Davis at No. 21

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40)

Allen Park – Leading up to the draft, most analysts considered it to be a weak quarterback class, but that didn’t stop three teams, including two playoff qualifiers, from trading up to take signal-callers they hope will become the face of their franchises.

The three quarterbacks highlighted a surprisingly offense-heavy top half of the first round, which was music to the Detroit Lions’ ears, forcing top defensive talent down the board. And with the No. 21 pick, the team selected Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis.

The selection filled what many considered the Lions’ biggest need.

“It’s a position that we had trouble with last year, keeping guys healthy first off, and it’s a position where I think you really need a guy in the middle of your defense that can be looked upon to call the defense,” general manager Bob Quinn said.

Davis (6-foot-1, 238 pounds) is an athletic, versatile option capable of playing the weakside and middle spots. He’s battled some injuries in college, but solidified his status as a first-round talent with a strong showing at his pro day.

Lions can't ignore long-term needs in draft

Limited by a high-ankle sprain last season, Davis appeared in nine games, recording 60 tackles, two sacks and four pass breakups. He called his slow recovery a learning experience.

“The process was really challenging, but it was something that I want to say battle tested me,” Davis said in a conference call shortly after his selection. “It was something that really showed me what I had deep down inside.”

Among the players the Lions passed on were Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Foster, viewed by many as the most talented linebacker in the draft, nearly slid out of the first round because of numerous red flags – both injury and character  before the 49ers traded back into the first round and took him with the 31st pick.

“(Character) is a big part of it,” Quinn said about his draft strategy. “None of them are perfect, so I felt like you kind of minimize risk when you take guys without some issues. I feel real comfortable with the guy we took.”

Prior to selecting Davis, the NFL Network reported three teams expressed interest in trading for the Lions’ pick. Quinn said the team listened, but discussions never got serious.

That wasn’t the case at the top of the draft, where wheeling and dealing got underway early Thursday evening. The Chicago Bears kicked things off by trading their third- and fourth-round selections this year and a third-rounder next season to the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot to No. 2 and take North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

The Kansas Chiefs made a far bolder jump from No. 27 to 10 to land Texas Tech signal-caller Patrick Mahomes, a swap that cost the Chiefs their first- and third-round pick this year, plus next year’s first.

The Houston Texans, not wanting to be left out of the frenzy, climbed from No. 25 to 12 for Clemson’s DeShaun Watson. In addition to this year’s first, Houston also surrendered next year’s first to Cleveland. This is the second consecutive year the Browns passed up on adding a quarterback to acquire a future first-round choice.

In addition to the three quarterbacks, there was an early run on skill position players with three wide receivers and two running backs being taken in the first nine picks. Among them was Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis, who was selected No. 5 overall by Tennessee. 

Among the surprising drops on the opening night were a pair of Alabama players. Both widely viewed as top-10 choices, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen fell to No. 17 and tight end O.J. Howard slid to Tampa Bay at No. 19.

Michigan had two players selected in the first round. Cleveland snagged safety Jabrill Peppers with the No. 25 pick they acquired in the trade with Houston. Three picks later, Dallas selected Charlton.

Getting to know Jarrad Davis

College: Florida

Position: Linebacker

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 238 pounds

Breakdown: Despite missing four games with an ankle injury, one that hampered him for large parts of the 2016 season, Davis managed to collect 60 tackles for the Gators while earning second-team All-America honors from the Sporting News and CBS Sports. He was also voted second-team All-SEC from coaches and was a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Butkus Award. Davis ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at his pro day and was ranked the No. 2 inside linebacker by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

“I think from a talent standpoint, Jarrad Davis is a first-round player. From an intangibles standpoint, he’s top 5 in the class,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. “I mean, he’s a player that loves the game. You can see the passion and just energy he has for the game when you study him on tape.”