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.

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.

 

 

TE T.J. Hockenson makes sense for Detroit Lions in first round, per Todd McShay

First-round TEs haven’t always worked out so well

Drafting tight ends in the first round is not exactly on the Lions’ list of top achievements in recent years.

Brandon Pettigrew, first-round pick in 2009 (20th overall), and Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick in 2014, immediately come to mind.

Still there’s a chance the Lions could turn to a tight end with the eighth overall pick three weeks from now.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Lions drafting Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round in his 4.0 mock draft.

He is well aware of need at defensive end, but he can’t overlook the Hockenson’s talent.

“I considered it. I gave Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) to Detroit at 43, I recognize the need,’’ McShay said in a Tuesday conference call. “I just think T.J. is one of the 10 best players in the draft. I know they haven’t had the greatest success drafting tight ends early with Pettigrew and Ebron.’’

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

“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,’’ McShay said.  

Last season in 13 games, Hockenson had 24 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think if developed properly Ferguson has a chance to be a really good player,”” McShay said.

He looked at the combination of picks in making the decision to go with Hockenson. He said there’s quite a drop-off in tight end talent between first and second rounds and less of a drop-off at defensive end.

The NFL draft starts on Thursday, April 25. The Lions have nine picks — one in each of the first five rounds with two in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Detroit Lions’ 2018 draft class was impressive in its first season

Frank Ragnow leads impressive class

The old rule of thumb is that a draft class can’t truly be judged for five years.

Maybe so. But after a rookie season, much has been learned about the Detroit Lions 2018 draftees.

Basically, General Manager Bob Quinn did a great job by filling needs and looking toward the future. If everyone stays healthy, it appears that all six will be on the roster in the 2019 season.

Here’s a quick look:

FRANK RAGNOW, first round, 20th overall — The left guard started all 16 games and showed flashes of what is yet to be. He proved to be a solid first-round pick and filled a need. To his benefit he was lined up between two guys with NFL experience in left tackle Taylor Decker and center Graham Glasgow. The offensive line has work to do but Ragnow proved he deserved a starting role.

“I think Frank has a bright future,” veteran right guard T.J. Lang said. “It’s not easy to come in as a young lineman and be thrown into a starting role. The way he approaches the game, sitting in meetings and asking questions, I think I really bonded with him this year because he was so ready to learn new techniques and everything he can about defenses. He wants to be great, and as an older guy to have an opportunity to teach him a little bit, take him under my wing, was an honor. He’s a strong kid, a smart kid, a great athlete. He’s only going to get better.”

KERRYON JOHNSON, second round, 43d overall — The running back, who had two games of more than 100 rushing yards, played a huge role in getting the once-weak run game in gear. It had been an issue which is why he was drafted in the second round. He was limited to 10 games following a knee injury on Nov. 18. The good news is that it’s not a lingering issue. He said if the Lions had made the playoffs he would be ready to go. He feels bad he couldn’t play the whole season. He finished with 118 carries for 641 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

“Running back is a tough spot, but when you’re able to finish 17 (weeks), give it your all for 17, I feel like that puts your team in the best position to win,” Johnson said. “That’s what I like to do. I like to win and I like to be accountable. One way you do that is by finishing.

“I’ve just got to train harder. Obviously, what I did this past offseason wasn’t enough, so I’ve got to do more. I have more time to do more without having to prepare for the combine and all that stuff,’’ Johnson added.

TRACY WALKER, third round, 82nd overall — Defensive back is a tough position to play as a rookie in the NFL, but Walker got his feet wet on defense and was a factor on special teams. He made some highlight plays and was burned too which is all a part of the learning curve for rookie defensive backs. He played in all 16 games and grabbed his first interception in the win over Carolina.

DA’SHAWN HAND, fourth round, 114th overall —  The 6-foot-3, 297-pound rookie was the top-graded rookie interior defensive lineman in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. He said he’s just getting started and now knows where he needs to improve. “I want to be fast, like blazing speed,’’ Hand said. “I’m trying to be like one of the fastest D-linemen in the league.” His season was ended when he sprained his knee in Week 14 in the win at Arizona. In 13 games he had three sacks and 27 tackles.

His teammate, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, sees a bright future for Hand. Harrison tweeted about Hand this week: “This kid is going to be a problem for a long time for offenses. No cap.”

TYRELL CROSBY, fifth round, 153rd overall — The offensive lineman saw action at right tackle in Week 14 when Rick Wagner was injured and could not finish the game. Crosby started at the same position for Wagner the next week. He served as a backup tackle this season but could move inside to guard also. Overall he played in 10 games and did not disappoint.

NICK BAWDEN, seventh round, 237rd overall — The fullback tore his ACL in June’s minicamp and missed the entire season.