Love or hate it, Detroit Lions following own path in 2019 NFL draft
The Detroit Lions are following a plan — steadfast and determined — boldly plowing ahead under general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia.
It’s just that, um — let’s try to be fair here — sometimes it’s a path that only they can see.
They drafted Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft on Friday night. And yes, I will give you some time right now to blink your eyes and say: "Who the heck is that?"
[ Lions take Jahlani Tavai: 'I heard the Patriots love this player' ]
Tavai is a 250-pound linebacker coming off a shoulder injury, who missed the Senior Bowl and might have been available later in the draft, as in, on Saturday. Shoot, he said that even his agent thought he might be a Day 3 guy.
But he is versatile and tough — things Quinn and Patricia value above all else.
“I want fans to know that I’m going to play every down that I can,” Tavai said. “I’m going to hustle to the ball and just show that I’m giving 110 percent effort every play. That’s the main thing that I want to show, just that I’m going to be that guy that they’re looking for basically.”
Best-case scenario for Lions fans: This was a brilliant pick and the Lions have solidified their linebacker situation, adding versatility and toughness. Presumably, this could allow Tavai to play inside linebacker and Jarrad Davis will be used more as an edge rusher.
Worst case: The Lions just made a huge reach, and watching Quinn and Patricia work is like watching a scene from the Netflix movie, “Bird Box,” where everybody is forced to run around wearing blindfolds.
Only time will tell.
"Really versatile player, four-year starter, two-time captain, very versatile linebacker, can play the run, can rush, can blitz, can cover," Quinn said. "(He’s a) very unique player."
It’s safe to say nobody saw this coming.
When did Tavai expect to be drafted?
“Well, prior to the draft, what my agent was telling me was either Day 2 or Day 3,” Tavai said.
Yes, Day 3.
As in, fourth round or worse.
That just warms your heart, right?
[ Lions make 'great culture pick' in Boston College's Will Harris in Round 3 ]
“So really, I wasn’t really sure,” he said. “I was just waiting for a phone call within those rounds. Like I said, I’m just really happy and really thankful for the opportunity that Coach (Matt) Patricia and the Lions’ staff gave me right now. (I’m) really excited.”
Let’s recap the Lions first two picks of this draft.
After taking tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 pick, some Lions fans were dejected. And if you thought, "Man, taking a tight end in the top 10 just feels wrong," — you wouldn’t be wrong.
And after taking the second pick, they were left uttering: "Are you freakin’ serious?"
Now, it is time to do what we always do, after a stunning Lions pick, and point out the players the team could have taken in the second round:
The Lions could have taken Joejuan Williams, a cornerback from Vanderbilt, who the New England Patriots took at No. 45.
The Lions could have taken Greedy Williams, a corner from LSU, who the Cleveland Browns took at No. 46. (OK, so he doesn’t tackle well; so be it.)
"You see him on the film play on the edge," Quinn said of Tavai. "You see him set the edge, you see him rush the passer and then two snaps later, he’s playing Mike bubble linebacker coming downhill and smashing a guard. There’s guys that can do that."
In Round 3, they traded up seven spots with Minnesota to take Will Harris, a Boston College safety.
"I thought we had a really, really good second day of the draft," Quinn said.
There is only one thing we know for certain, right now.
Quinn and Patricia are doing it their way. Unafraid of public perception.
They drafted a tight end in the first round, even though he knew many fans would freak out.
You have to give them credit for not buckling under public pressure. You have to pick the guys you love. And that’s great, if they are right.
They are trying not only to bring in players, but change the culture at the same time.
This is an incredibly important offseason for this franchise — from free agency to the draft.
[ Who is Jahlani Tavai: A quick look at the Lions' second-round draft pick ]
They signed Trey Flowers to replace Ezekiel Ansah. They signed Justin Coleman, a corner, to a four-year deal for $36 million. They signed Danny Amendola to play slot and improve the culture. (He knows what it is like to be on a winning team.)
Will all of those moves work?
If they are right, Patricia and Quinn will be here a long time.
If they are right, they will get this team into the playoffs.
If they are right, they are remaking this team for the long haul.
If they are right, they have fixed their tight end situation, signing Jesse James in free agency and bringing in Hockenson. “Yeah, put them on the field together. Two really good tight ends. Probably work a lot of 12 personnel, which is one back, two tight ends,” Quinn said. “I think that’s something that our offense can really work through. I think we can be very multiple. We can switch easily to 11 personnel and have Danny (Amendola) out there with our receivers, and then pick your poison to what tight end you want to put on the field.”
But if they are wrong, if Tavai is another Teez Tabor — a second-round pick who hasn't worked out — this is going to get ugly.
This team has no wiggle room for mistakes.
It has missed the playoffs for two straight seasons.
If Quinn and Patricia are wrong, well, we have seen that movie for far too long around here.
Because the ending is painful and certain.
And all too familiar to Lions fans.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.