Versatility spurs Lions into taking off-the-radar LB Jahlani Tavai in second round
Allen Park — Last year, the Detroit Lions caught everyone off guard with their first-round pick. This year, they waited until the second round of the NFL Draft to surprise observers, selecting Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai No. 43 overall Friday night.
General manager Bob Quinn raved about Tavai's versatility, as well as his unique skill set and body type being a strong fit for Detroit's defensive scheme.
"Very unique with his body type, his playing strength, his ability to rush, cover, play the run, throw special teams in there as well," Quinn said. "It's just something where these guys are hard to find really felt fortunate to be able to get him because there was some interest in and around our picks that we were getting pretty nervous there for a few picks."
A four-year starter, the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder racked up 124 tackles in both 2016 and 2017.
Tavai took an official visit to Detroit during the pre-draft process and said he also talked to the team during the scouting combine in February.
Many draft analysts weren't keen on Tavai's potential heading into the draft, with most viewing him as a Day 3 selection. But at least a handful saw a Day 2 talent, including The Athletic's Dane Brugler, who mocked the linebacker to the Patriots in the third round.
Quinn noted part of the team's evaluation is the scarcity of the position in the draft and how many other teams might also value a linebacker with Tavai's body type for their scheme.
A shoulder injury and a one-game suspension, following an arrest for assault at a night club, limited him to eight games as a senior.
According to Hawaii News Now, Tavai was arrested along with a teammate for third-degree assault after they were involved in an altercation with a man who allegedly pushed a woman to the ground
In a conference call with Detroit media, Tavai declined to comment on the incident. Quinn said they discussed the issue with Tavai, multiple times, are are comfortable it was an isolated incident.
"Everybody in the building sat down with him," Quinn said. "He told the same exact story that he told us at the combine. It was very consistent from point A to point B. He made a mistake. You guys read the articles. You know what it was. I think a lot of people in this room would’ve stepped in and tried to do the right thing as well. It was unfortunate. He made a mistake, and we are totally fine with him character wise, 1000 percent."
Tavai played outside linebacker as a freshman, but started in the middle his final three seasons. He anticipates starting out as a Mike in Detroit. Jarrad Davis is the current starter in the middle for the Lions, but could be shifted to a different role in 2019 to better utilize his pass-rush ability.
Prior to the Lions' selection, there was a run on cornerbacks, with four coming off the board the first 10 picks of the day. Washington's Byron Murphy, Temple's Rock Ya-Sin, Central Michigan's Sean Bunting and Clemson's Trayvon Mullen were all taken before the Lions were on the clock.
Also selected were several popular names linked to the Lions, including wide receiver Deebo Samuel and offensive linemen Cody Ford and Dalton Risner.
Meet Jahlani Tavai
Notable stats: Second all-time at Hawaii in tackles with 391 in his Rainbow Warriors career after notching 82 as a senior before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Hawaii's eight game.
Analysis: Tavai is a rugby player and said he learned to hit hard there. Whatever happens in Tavai's career, this is a reach for the Lions, as there doesn't appear to be a single notable mock draft where he gets selected this high. That's not a death sentence, and certainly he'll add to a thin linebacking corps. Where he fits in alongside Jarrad Davis will be a key training camp question. Adding to the question marks is a one-game suspension Tavai served for a nightclub incident last summer.