Detroit Lions trim roster to 53 with few surprises; more changes likely

The Detroit Lions established their 53-man roster on Saturday when they released 25 players including cornerback Teez Tabor, wide receiver Brandon Powell, safety Charles Washington and quarterback Tom Savage.

This roster is fluid and it’s likely GM Bob Quinn will make changes in the next few days as other NFL teams make cuts.

At this point:

Quarterbacks (3) — Matthew Stafford, Josh Johnson and David Blough.

Tom Savage was cut along with David Perez who could find a spot on the practice squad. Johnson just joined the Lions but is an NFL veteran who has played in 33 NFL games, including four starts with the Redskins last year. Blough was acquired in a trade on Friday.

Running backs (4) — Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson and FB Nick Bawden.

The biggest surprise was the release of Zach Zenner earlier in the week. Zenner was a staple on special teams. It was clear that they like what they’ve seen from the rookie Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick.

Wide receivers (5) — Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Chris Lacy and Travis Fulgham.

Brandon Powell, who played in six games for the Lions in 2018, was cut in the tight competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Lacy’s special teams play gave him an edge, same with Travis Fulgham who was a sixth-round draft pick.

Tight ends (3) — T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James and Logan Thomas.

Expect much more from this position this season with an all-new crew. Hockenson was a standout in training camp and can learn from the veterans. Nauta, a seventh-round pick could return on the practice squad.

Offensive line (9) — Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Oday Aboushi, Beau Benzschawel and Tyrell Crosby. 

Benzschawel’s versatility helped his cause. The undrafted rookie lineman can play guard and center. It’s unclear if Ragnow, who has moved to center, will be healthy to play in the opener at the Arizona Cardinals. If he goes, look for Glasgow and Dahl to start at the guard positions.

Defensive line (8) — Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison Sr., Mike Daniels, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, Kevin Strong and Austin Bryant.

No real surprises here. Bryant was injured early in camp, but he apparently is getting close to a return. Strong is another undrafted rookie free agent. P.J. Johnson, a seventh-round pick could be a practice squad candidate.

Linebackers (6) — Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Miles Killebrew.

No surprises here either. Anthony Pittman (Birmingham Groves, Wayne State) was cut but could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Defensive backs (12) — Darius Slay, Justin Coleman, Rashaan Melvin, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Amani Oruwariye, Tavon Wilson, Jamal Agnew, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin and C.J. Moore.

Teez Tabor, the 2017 second-round pick, was released. He was sidelined the past three weeks with a leg injury. Tabor was drafted despite his lack of speed and could never make up for it. Another cut, Charles Washington, was a factor on special teams and a great guy in the locker room, but couldn’t carve out a role on defense.

Special teams (3) — Kicker: Matt Prater;  Punter: Sam Martin; Long snapper: Don Muhlbach

Released on Saturday:

CB Johnathan Alston

DT John Atkins

LB Malik Carney

TE Jerome Cunningham

T Andrew Donnal

LB Garret Dooley

WR Jonathan Duhart

DT P.J. Johnson

DT Fredrick Jones

WR Tom Kennedy

C Leo Koloamatangi

LB Steven Longa

TE Isaac Nauta

T Matt Nelson

QB Luis Perez

LB Anthony Pittman

WR Brandon Powell

QB Tom Savage

DT Ray Smith

RB Justin Stockton

CB Teez Tabor

RB Mark Thompson

TE Austin Traylor

S Charles Washington

DE Jonathan Wynn

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Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn follows draft board not the advice of fans, media

Quinn wants what the fans want

Bob Quinn doesn’t let fan expectations or sentiment drive his draft decisions.

That shouldn’t even be questioned. He has worked all his professional life to learn the draft process.

The Lions general manager just completed his fourth draft weekend in Detroit.

On Day 3 of the draft Saturday he added three players on defense and three on offense. He was all smiles taking the podium afterward.

“Good mix of skill guys and big guys – felt like good value. Kind of made that one trade with Atlanta, moved back a couple spots, thought that was good business to acquire that other pick for really just moving down six spots, I think. I thought it was a good day,’’ Quinn said.

And it wasn’t just a good day.

“Thought it was a really good weekend for us overall as a team, got the team better,’’ Quinn added.

T.J. Hockenson, his first-round pick, filled a need at tight end and seemed to go over well.

It was the second-round pick, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who raised a few eyebrows.

Why? Because he was not deemed second-round worthy by many NFL draft analysts and fans. That led to hand-wringing and deep sighs from many fans and short-sighted media members who thought they knew better. Ask them, they’d give you a list of players they preferred with that pick.

Tavai wasn’t as well known, in part because he played at Hawaii.

Will he be a Pro Bowl player? Maybe. It’s too early to know. No guarantees on his future.

None of this matters to Quinn. He took Tavai because he followed the Lions’ draft board which was created over the past 12 months.

With all due respect to fans, media, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and other NFL draft analysts, Quinn knows the Lions’ needs and wants better than any one.

His first three drafts yielded good results. A year ago he made six picks and the five that stayed healthy made significant contributions to the season. His top six selections in 2017 are starters or regular players and in 2016 he drafted Taylor Decker, A’Shawn Robinson and Graham Glasgow with his first three picks. All are starters.

Quinn has proven that he can draft. With each draft he gets closer to the roster that he desires.

Still his pick of Tavai was roundly criticized.

The GM, who learned his craft while with the Patriots, won’t lose sleep over the criticism.

‘If I worry about what other people think, I’ll be up all night. Trust me. I respect the question. I really do and I understand it. But if we go into this process being scared about what other people think about our team and our evaluations, then we’ve got a long way to go,’’ Quinn said.

“We’re convicted on the guys we take. Are we going to be right 100 percent of the time? No, no team is. But I think we do a tremendous amount of work. And this is a 12-month process for us and this is something that is the lifeline of this organization in terms of players. So, I feel very confident about the evaluations and the guys we took this weekend, and also some of the rookie free agents we’re working on now,’’ he added.

Quinn wants exactly what the fans want — a team that can win in the playoffs.

Is that so hard to understand?

Let’s watch Tavai and the other picks on game days. That’s the only way to judge the draft.

National media grades Lions’ second-round pick Jahlani Tavai

‘Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers’

While the Detroit Lions’ decision to draft Jahlani Tavai in the second round (43rd overall) on Friday night surprised many, the Hawaii linebacker is respected by national media.

GM Bob Quinn said there was interest in Tavai from other teams near the time of the Lions’ pick. Quinn said he’s a natural fit for the Lions’ defense. (Scroll down to see Quinn explain the pick in detail.)

No one knows if Tavai will be a Pro Bowl player or a bust. Here’s an idea: Let him get on the field and prove himself.

A few comments from national NFL media on Tavai:

Pete Prisco, CBSsports.com: “I love him. He flies around to the football. Nowadays you’ve gotta have a guy that can fly around and run and chase. Grade: B+”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “I like Tavai. Good player, a tackling machine with some versatility. But I don’t like him in the second round. Not with Mack Wilson and Bobby Okereke, among others, still there. Tavai is my eighth-ranked inside linebacker and qualifies as the biggest reach of the day; he is No. 137 on my Big Board.”

NFL.com’s Chad Reuter: “Tavai was picked earlier than expected, much like Kyle Van Noy was a few years ago, though NFL scouts believe Tavai can become a starter. The Van Noy pick didn’t work out for the Lions, but hopefully this one will.”

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah: “He can set the edge on the run, he’s very versatile, which they love. This is a player you can do a lot of different things with.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit: “Stemming from his Patriots roots, Matt Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers. He has one in Christian Jones, but Jones is average on the field in a contract year—hence the selection of Tavai. What will be interesting is whether Tavai’s arrival impacts where the explosive but somewhat inconsistent 2017 first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis plays. GRADE: C+”

WalterFootball.com: “Jahlani Tavai is a linebacker with pedestrian instincts, which doesn’t sound great. However, he has three-down ability. He’s forceful against the run and athletic enough to drop into coverage. I think this is a bit early for Tavai, who was a low Round 2/high Round 3 prospect, but he makes sense for the Lions, who had to upgrade their horrible linebacking corps. Grade: B-“

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox: “While linebacker Jahlani Tavai was a reach, Detroit obviously believes that he’s a fit for the defense.”

Pro Football Weekly staff: “For the second straight year, Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn pull a big Day 2 surprise, following up the Tracy Walker selection in 2018 with Tavai, who wasn’t even our 2019 NFL Draft Mag and seems to be a mid-Day 3 prospect at a few other sites we’ve checked out. Tavai has big-time size at 6-2, 250 and hitting ability. We have to think his rugby background probably isn’t a coincidence with Patricia hailing from the Bill Belichick school of evaluating. Tavai has some red flags — including an assault arrest and shoulder injury early and late in his final season with the Warriors. We’ll be curious to see more about how fits in the plans for the Lions next to Jarrad Davis.”

 

Lions draft safety Will Harris after trading up in third round

He says Friday was best day of his life

ALLEN PARK — Will Harris said Friday was the best day of his of his life.

In fact, to make his point, he repeated it several times.

Harris, a safety from Boston College, was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions who traded up to grab him. Detroit dealt picks 88 and 204 to the Vikings for the 81st pick.

“I’m ready to rock,’’ Harris said in a conference call late on Friday night.

He will be reunited with Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni who coached him at Boston College. “I can’t wait to get back to work with him. I’m familiar with the things we’ve done in the past it’s really exciting to be able to play under him again,’’ Harris said.

That familiarity may have played into the decision to key in on Harris, but it wasn’t the only factor.

“I remember going to (Boston College) practice, and like I said, I know a bunch of staff members, honestly probably 15 or 20 years. And you go there and Boston College had a pretty good list of prospects this year,’’ GM Bob Quinn said. “… Really, the first guy that a lot of guys mentioned to me was this guy. Like, ‘This guy’s like the heartbeat of our team.’ Not that those other guys were bad, they weren’t, because they have a lot of good football players and a lot of good leaders. But this guy was voted captain on that team, on that defense. So, that spoke volumes to me.”

Harris started at strong safety for the Eagles since late in his freshman year. He started all 12 games as a senior, finishing with 75 tackles and one interception.

CBSSports.com reported on Harris: “Active, run-support specialist safety who’s best when he can flow toward the line of scrimmage after the snap. Hips are a little stiff but his range is above-average, and because he’s decently explosive, he can close on the ball in a hurry. Good No. 3 safety with starting upside.’’

Harris’ father, Will, played receiver at Mississippi State from 1989 to 1992 and was drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo in 1993.

“Ever since I could remember, ever since I was really young, since I was able to even pick up a football, I’ve always been enamored by the game,’’ Harris said. “He grew up playing receiver. So, naturally I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but also at a young age I fell in love with defense. So, switched over to the defensive side of the ball in college and one of the best things I’ve ever done.

“He played an integral part in my football career and in my life. That’s my father. That’s my guy. He’s been there every step of the way. He’s been my coach growing up, my trainer, my mentor, above else, my father. He’s been a great father. It meant the world for me, for him to be here and see our culmination of work finally come down to this day. So, this is the best day of my life,’’ Harris added.

Earlier on Friday night, the Lions drafted linebacker Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) in the second round, 43rd overall.

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

The 2019 NFL draft wraps up starting 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.

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.

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.

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.