Detroit Lions draft LB Jahlani Tavai in second round; Bob Quinn explains why

GM says Tavai’s body type is a perfect fit

ALLEN PARK — GM Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions coaching staff have a preferred style of linebacker.

Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) fit the bill which is why the Lions drafted him in the second round with the 43rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft on Friday night at the Lions facility.

“Versatility, body type we like thick-built linebackers, really thick guys that can take on blocks, but when they play on the edge they have enough playing strength and arm length to set the edge,’’ Quinn said. “… He’s 6-2 ½, he’s 250, his wingspan is as tall as guys who are 6-4 or 6-5. If I remember correctly he has an 82- or 83-inch wingspan which is rare for that position, he’s got a really wide back and his arms are average to above average length.

“These guys are hard to find and really felt fortunate to be able to get him, there was some interest around our pick so we were getting pretty nervous,’’ said Quinn who said they had targeted him as early as October.

Tavai will give them options at the position along with Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Devon Kennard.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who do a lot of different stuff. … When you add a guy like Jahlani to the mix, you see him on film play on the edge, you see him set the edge, you see him rush the passer. Two snaps later he’s playing mike bubble linebacker coming downhill and smashing the guard,’’ Quinn said.

“There’s guys who can do that, a lot of guys in the draft, (but) every year there’s a very select few guys you see them do it on film. You’re projecting this guy plays on the edge but we project he can play mike and come downhill. This guy, there’s visual evidence, you see him do that on a game-by-game basis,’’ Quinn said.

It didn’t matter to Quinn that many analysts projected Tavai to go in later rounds. Part of that could be because his senior season was cut short with a shoulder injury but that is no longer an issue. He was able to have a pro day in April.

“Right now I’m feeling blessed and thankful that the Lions showed some love towards me. I’m really happy right now, I’m speechless,’’ Tavai said in a conference call after the pick.

Prior to the draft he said his agent told him to expect to be selected in Day 2 or Day 3.

CBSsports.com had Tavai ranked as the 195th best draft prospect and the 17th best linebacker. ESPN analyst Todd McShay had Tavai ranked as the 93rd best prospect in the draft.

“I want fans to know I’m going to play every down that I can, I’m going to hustle to the ball and show that I’m giving 110 percent after every play,’’ Tavai said. “I want to be that guy that they’re looking for.’’

The linebacker said the Lions talked to him at the NFL Draft Combine and brought him to Lions headquarters for a pre-draft visit a few weeks ago.

At Mira Costa High School (Manhattan Beach) he was rated as the No. 305 athlete nationally by 247sports Tavai was also a standout in rugby, lettered in volleyball and track, and was a Bay League champion in discus as a sophomore.

“I love playing rugby, that’s one of my hobbies,” said Tavai who was on the national rugby team.

His brother Jordan, was a defensive lineman at Kansas while another, J.R., played linebacker at USC and for the Tennessee Titans.

Tavai was a first-team All-Mountain West pick in 2016 when he started all 14 games and led the conference with 19.5 tackles for loss (129 total, 7 sacks). He was a second-team all-conference selection in 2017, ranking 10th in the FBS with 124 tackles and leading his team with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

According to his NFL draft prospect bio, he was suspended for the season opener in 2018 due to a June arrest for assault at a Honolulu night club.

“I try not to think about that, the past is the past. Right now I’ve learned from my mistake and I’m trying to move on right now and show the Lions I’m ready to go and not allowing anything off the field to ever affect me again,” Tavai said.

Quinn said they are totally comfortable with his explanation and his character.

In the third round on Friday night the Lions drafted safety Will Harris (Boston College).

The Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson In the first round on Thursday night with the eighth overall pick.

The draft starts again at noon on Saturday. The Lions have one pick in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, and two picks in the seventh round.

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Five things to know about Detroit Lions first-round pick T.J. Hockenson

Iowa tight end likes Disney, golf and football

ALLEN PARK — T.J. Hockenson was introduced to Detroit Lions fans on Friday.

The tight end from Iowa was the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night in Nashville. He and his parents flew to Detroit on Friday and were welcomed into the Lions practice facility.

“We’re very excited about the addition of T.J. When the opportunity came up last night in the draft, he’s somebody we targeted, somebody we knew would be a great fit in our organization, we’re thrilled to have him and his mom and dad here to celebrate just a tremendous achievement but also a beginning and the next phase of what’s going to be a great career,’’ coach Matt Patricia said in his introduction.

The coach said it was a perfect match. They were excited when he was not selected early but didn’t want to get too excited.

Five things to know about Hockenson:

1. The 21-year-old tight end was not heavily recruited out of Chariton but Iowa and Iowa State came calling. “Being from Iowa and being from a small town, growing up and watching coach (Kirk) Ferentz there, I was excited to be a Hawkeye,’’ Hockenson said.

2. At 6-foot-5, he was just 220 when he arrived at Iowa which was way under-sized for a Big Ten tight end. He redshirted his first season. He tips the scales at 250 now. He credits the coaches at Iowa with giving him all the tools he needed to gain weight and strength. “It comes down not only working hard, but having the right tools to do it,’’ said Hockenson who only played two full seasons for the Hawkeyes. Those early practices when he weighed 220 certainly toughened him up. “They’ll definitely get you tougher that’s for sure, they were fun,’’ Hockenson said. “You just have to play the game. When you get knocked down you’ve got to get back up and go back at it and go as hard as you can.’’

3. He’s excited to get going but has to wait a few weeks for rookie minicamp. He’s had a chance to talk with quarterback Matthew Stafford. “I’m excited, he’s such a great quarterback and he’s a great person, just being able to talk to him today, just learning who he is as a person and how genuine he is, I’m excited about learning the game from him and see how he sees it,’’ Hockenson said. “Like I said I’m going to try to be a sponge and figure this thing out.’’

4. It will be a big change coming from Chariton, Iowa, which has a population of 4,122. “It’s cool, the entire community has come together. Last night they had a draft party and able to get a lot of pictures and phone calls,’’ Hockenson said. “I literally think I have 600 text messages right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do I’ll spend next week (going) through them. I’m excited, they’re so excited, they’re happy. I’ve loved my time in Chariton. It’s put me where I needed to be from a small town, I always know I’ll have those people.’’

5. Away from football, he enjoys playing golf and being outdoors. He was pleased and surprised to learn the Lions have a par-3 hole behind their practice fields. He’s also a big Disney fan. He was wearing “Lion King” socks on Thursday night at the draft and his dog is named Lilo from the Disney movie, “Lilo and Stitch.” He’s been to Disney properties a few times. “It’s the best place on Earth,’’ Hockenson said.

UPDATED: Lions select tight end T.J. Hockenson in first round of NFL draft

T.J. Hockenson is “super excited” to become a Detroit Lion. In turn, the Lions are thrilled to have landed him.

The Iowa tight end was drafted by the Lions in the first round (eighth overall) in the NFL Draft on Thursday night in Nashville.

He had talked with the Lions at the NFL draft combine and throughout the process, but nothing is certain on draft night until the phone rings.

“It was awesome, it was really a dream come true to be in the NFL and to be in such a great program like Detroit,’’ Hockenson said in a conference call to the Detroit media. “Having my family there — my grandfather that’s 92  — just being able to share that moment with all those people. It’s super humbling and I’m super excited for the opportunity I have in front of me.’’

Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 251 pounds, is widely considered the best overall tight end and one of the 10 best overall players in the draft.

Coach Matt Patricia said Hockenson is a guy the Lions had targeted early in the draft process.

“He’s someone who’s going to represent everything we want,’’ Patricia said at the fan draft party. “He’s smart, he’s tough, works hard, gives everything every single play … This is a guy who finishes every single play, he can do the dirty work in the run game, get open in the passing game, put a lot of pressure on the defense. He gives us multiplicity on offense.’’

Patricia loves the way Hockenson finishes his blocks.

“There’s a lot of plays on tape when you’re watching this guy and he’s blocking somebody and all of a sudden you can’t seen him on the tape because he’s got his guy on the sideline, dumping him on the bench,’’ Patricia said. “Just a tenacious guy, a tough guy, a blue-collar hard worker and that’s what we’re all about.”

GM Bob Quinn also was pleased with the pick.

“We felt really, really good about that pick, he’s a guy we targeted early in the process,’’ Quinn said. “Really great player, 3-down, 4-down player that’s going to be a big part of our offense going forward. Really checked every box that we had in terms of the evaluation process from on field to third down to red area to blocking to special teams to culture to intelligence to work ethic. You name it he checked basically every box throughout the process.’’

Since 1997, Hockenson is the 10th tight end drafted from Iowa and the highest a tight end has been drafted across the NFL since Vernon Davis in 2006.

“Coming from the University of Iowa it’s really helped me coming from a pro style offense, being a three-down tight end, being able to hear the call in the huddle and translate it in a split second when you get to the line,’’ Hockenson said. “At the University of Iowa I really wanted to talk to everyone and be able to learn. … I’m going to work hard and do everything I can to learn that playbook and be able to talk to everyone about it.’’

Hockenson fills a need at tight end with not enough production from the position last season. He’ll be another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Last season Hockenson led the Hawkeyes in receiving yards (760) and was second in receptions (49) and touchdowns (6). He received the 2018 John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the nation.

“You don’t often find guys coming out of college who can block inline and you can flex them out and they can be as successful blocking as they are running routes and creating after the catch. I think he is one of the more complete football players in this draft and I don’t think you can go wrong with Hockenson,’’ ESPN analyst Todd McShay said in an April conference call.

CBSsports.com’s report on Hockenson said: “Young, dynamic pass-catching option with the athleticism and speed to threaten the seam and make catches well outside his frame. Immense leg churn as a blocker and very accurate finding linebackers in space. Probably needs to add more strength at the next level to control defensive ends at the point of attack, but is arguably the most exciting, new-age tight end to enter the league over the past few drafts.”

Hockenson joins the four other tight ends on the Lions roster — Jesse James, Michael Roberts, Logan Thomas and Jerome Cunningham.

He is the third tight end the Lions have drafted in the first round since they selected Brandon Pettigrew in 2009 (20th overall) and then Eric Ebron in 2014 (10th overall).

The top three picks in the NFL draft were Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Nick Bosa (49ers) and Quinnen Williams (Jets).

Rounds 2-3 will start at 7 p.m. on Friday. The final four rounds of the draft start at noon on Saturday.

 

 

Thirty years ago today the Detroit Lions drafted Barry Sanders third overall

The Packers passed in favor of Tony Mandarich

Thirty years ago today the Detroit Lions drafted running back Barry Sanders.

No-brainer, you ask?

Well, yes. On April 23,1989, by the time the Oklahoma State running back dropped to the Lions with the third overall pick it was an easy decision for GM Chuck Schmidt.

Sanders, the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, was coming off a remarkable college season. He backed up Thurman Thomas his first two seasons and then in his junior year (1988) he led the nation averaging 7.6 yards per carry and more than 200 yards per game and more than 300 yards in four games. In total he rushed for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in a dozen games that season. He carried the ball 344 times (unbelievable) and still returned kicks and punts.

Sanders was a marvel, obviously.

When he joined the Lions, he acclimated to the NFL immediately.

He missed training camp as a rookie due to contract issues so he didn’t start the regular season opener. He stepped on the field in the third quarter for the first time and carried nine times for 71 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a 16-13 loss to Phoenix. This was after no training camp and no preseason games. He finished the season with 1,470 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Speaking of no-brainers, he was named NFL rookie of the year.

Through 10 seasons with the Lions, Sanders averaged more than 1,500 rushing yards per season and 99.8 rushing yards per game. In 1997, he became the third player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and was named the NFL Most Valuable Player.

If you never saw him, go to YouTube and watch his highlights. It’s a treat. There’s a reason he was a 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL offensive player of the year.

So while the Lions have historically had a few bad first-round picks — Charles Rogers (2003) and Reggie Rogers (1987) come to mind — when it came to Sanders they nailed it. Not so much for the Green Bay Packers.

In that 1989 draft, Troy Aikman was the first overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys.

Then the Packers drafted offensive lineman Tony Mandarich. (Michigan State) who was a bust with a capital B. History proved they were idiots for skipping over Sanders.

Four of the top five 1989 picks became Hall of Famers — Sanders, Aikman, Derrick Thomas (Kansas City) and Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons).

 

(Read more about Barry Sanders in one of my books — “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” or “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” Both are available on Amazon.com and at Detroit-area Barnes & Nobles.)

Detroit Lions: Three take-aways from GM Bob Quinn’s pre-draft press conference

He would like to trade down from the 8th overall pick

ALLEN PARK — Is Bob Quinn trying to send out secret messages about his NFL draft plans?

That’s doubtful, but  the Detroit Lions GM has been pretty clear that he wouldn’t mind trading down in the first round.

He reiterated that stance on Thursday during his annual pre-draft press conference. The Lions have the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft — and eight additional picks. The draft starts next Thursday, April 25, with the first round. Second and third rounds will be drafted on April 26, with the final rounds on April 27.

Quinn estimated that he and his staff have evaluated 1,800 prospects in preparation for his fourth draft for the Lions.

Three thoughts to ponder:

1. While he’s willing to trade down, don’t expect him to move up. “There’s a couple players at the top you obviously would love to have, I just don’t think I have enough ammunition to get up there,’’ Quinn said. “I think, like I said previously, I’d rather move back a couple spots if anything. So there’s definitely good players at the very top, there’s good players at 8 too, guys that we’re excited about. Hopefully a couple are there and we can choose from a couple of them.’’

He’s open to most anything. He would trade down into the 20s if that deal made sense and he could still grab a player that he wanted.

“It’s hard to say right now, to be quite frank, some teams in that 13-15 they don’t want to do anything. You get an offer from 21 and it looks really good and you look at the board and saying 8 to 21 is 13 spots — there’s 13 good players I like there,’’ Quinn said. “You do the math and think I could at least get that guy and then evaluate from there.’’

2. Fan sentiment plays no role in his draft decisions. None. This should be obvious, but there are still fans who will groan if he drafts a tight end (or even a wide receiver) in the first round. That’s because they were disappointed in first-round tight ends Eric Ebron (2014) and Brendan Pettigrew (2009).

“In all due respect to the fans out there, I can’t take the fan sentiment to who I draft and who I sign to this team,’’ Quinn said. “I wasn’t the person who drafted Eric so I think it’s two different conversations.’’

3. In the last few weeks, Quinn and his staff have been taking their time and going through special teams rankings from the scouts and coaches. Quinn said some of the players haven’t been on special teams since 2016 which makes it a little more interesting.

“Really the final piece of the puzzle is how much special teams value does this player have. Because ultimately in fourth through seventh (rounds) nd rookie free agents that’s really how guys end up sticking on the team,’’ Quinn said. “They could be a really good receiver but have no special teams value and you look at it the other way — you know if they have really good special teams value you know they’ll be able to get on the bus, go to the game, be on the 46-man roster and work it out there.’’

That’s exactly why a guy like running back Zach Zenner, an undrafted free agent, stuck around and got a chance on offense. Same with several other players on the Lions’ roster in recent years.

Detroit Lions release 2019 schedule

Will play one Monday night game on the road

Not too much drama in the release of the Detroit Lions’ 2019 schedule on Wednesday night although just two of the first five games will be played at Ford Field.

The Lions open on the road at the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 8 with their first home game in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers who finished 12-4 last season.

They will play on Monday night game, on Oct. 14 at the Green Bay Packers. It will be their first game after the bye in Week 5 (Oct. 6).

On Oct. 27, the Lions will welcome the New York Giants and wide receiver Golden Tate.

On Thanksgiving they will face the Chicago Bears for the second straight season. In 2018 the Bears feasted on the Lions with a 23-16 win.

The regular season — the second under coach Matt Patricia —  will wrap up on Dec. 29 against the Packers at Ford Field. It’s the second straight home finale against the Packers. The Lions won that game 30-0 last year to finish the season, 6-10.

2019 REGULAR SEASON LIONS SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 8 at Arizona Cardinals, FOX, 4:25 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 15 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS, CBS, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 22 at Philadelphia Eagles, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 29 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 6 BYE WEEK

Monday, October 14 at Green Bay Packers, ESPN, 8:15 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 20 MINNESOTA VIKINGS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 27 NEW YORK GIANTS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 3 at Oakland Raiders, FOX, 4:05 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 10 at Chicago Bears, CBS, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 17 DALLAS COWBOYS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Nov.24 at Washington Redskins, FOX, 1 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 28 CHICAGO BEARS, FOX, 12:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 8 at Minnesota Vikings, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 15 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 21/Sunday, Dec. 22 at Denver Broncos TBD

Sunday, Dec. 29 GREEN BAY PACKERS, FOX, 1 p.m.

PRESEASON SCHEDULE

Thursday, Aug. 8 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, WJBK-TV FOX 2, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 17 at Houston Texans WJBK-TV FOX 2, 8 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 23 BUFFALO BILLS, CBS, 8 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 29 at Cleveland Browns, WJBK-TV, FOX 2 7:30 p.m

Lions LB Devon Kennard: Defense starting season with a clean slate

The fifth-round pick offers advice to success

ALLEN PARK — Devon Kennard remembers his draft day in 2014 as the most stressful and the best day all rolled into one.

The Lions linebacker, who was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Giants, has found success despite his late-round status.

It wasn’t an accident, he worked hard as a rookie and still does.

With the NFL draft starting on April 25 he has advice for late-round picks.

“I would definitely say like learn the playbook early on, that helped me my first year. I feel like I’m an intelligent player, if you don’t know what you’re doing like the game is going to be moving too fast as a rookie and a late-round guy,’’ Kennard said at a Tuesday press conference.

Many of the Lions players reported to voluntary workouts starting on Monday.

“I think I earned my teammates and coaches respect, I came in as a rookie I dove into the playbook right away and I was out there I didn’t do everything perfect. I knew where to line up and play certain things and was doing things the right way,’’ Kennard said. “That gave me a huge headway to end up starting as a rookie even though I was a late-round draft pick.’’

He started six games as a rookie for the Giants and played three more seasons there before he joined the Lions for the 2018 season when he started in 15 games.

The Lions’ defense was a work in progress in 2018, the first under first-year coach Matt Patricia, although improvement was obvious by the end of the season.

Kennard said that doesn’t matter.

“I’m kind of a firm believer in last year is last year. If you try to hang your hat on something like that you know teams are watching film and studying too,’’ Kennard said. “So if you think we finished the year strong so we’re going to be good and we’re going to be strong because that’s how we finished that’s the recipe for disaster.

“I kind of look at it as complete clean slate. The best advantage we have is just our understanding of our defense and our ownership of the defense. It’s what we do with it now moving forward,’’ Kennard added.

The NFL will announce the 2019 schedule at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.