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.