What Kind Of Player Are The Lions Getting In Jalen Reeves-Maybin?
With the 124th pick in this year’s NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a speedy and instinctual linebacker out of the University of Tennessee. To many fans, this pick was a surprise. After taking a closer look at Reeves-Maybin, it shouldn’t be. Two areas that Bob Quinn puts emphasis on for defensive players are instincts and speed. Reeves-Maybin excels in both of these areas.
It was very clear going into the draft that the Lions were desperate at the linebacker position. It was very clear after the draft that the Detroit Lions’ front office felt the same way. After spending their first round pick on Jarrad Davis and then spending the 124th pick on Reeves-Maybin, the Detroit Lions have improved their speed, coverage, and instincts significantly over last year.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin attended the University of Tennessee as a four-star recruit after standing out on both sides of the ball in high school. He received accolades as both a rusher and a linebacker and was rated as Rivals seventh-ranked prospect out of Tennessee. After joining the Volunteers, Reeves-Maybin began to focus on linebacker full-time.
As a freshman, Reeves-Maybin was a standout on special teams. He played a little bit of linebacker but was mostly just a rotational piece on the defensive side of the ball. Special teams is really where he made an impact in his first year. He led his team in special teams tackles and blocked a kick in his first year as a Volunteer and showed the high level of effort that he continued to put on display over the remainder of his college career.
Sophomore year is when Reeves-Maybin really took off as a linebacker. In his first year starting at linebacker, Reeves-Maybin racked up 101 tackles, a number that was tied for first on the team, with 11 of them for loss. He added two sacks and an interception, as well as recovering two fumbles. He was an immediate impact player for the Tennessee Volunteers and began to catch the attention of NFL scouts.
As a junior, Reeves-Maybin further improved his game, as well as his statistics. He recorded 105 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, increased his sacks to six, forced and recovered two fumbles, and he added four pass deflections. He started to utilize his athleticism in coverage better and began to polish up his skills in both the run game and pass rushing.
Many thought that Reeves-Maybin would declare for the draft after his productive junior year. Many media-scouts had him graded out as a second to third round pick. In an attempt to raise his draft stock, Reeves-Maybin decided to return for his senior year. Unfortunately, his final year in college did not help his stock. In the spring before his senior year, Reeves-Maybin tore his labrum. He then injured his shoulder again early in the season and was forced to have a second surgery to end his season.
Reeves-Maybin is a very instinctual player that uses his football IQ to maximize his aggressive and athletic game. He is quick to read and diagnose plays and quick to react and get moving based on those reads. He reads screen passes well and is not afraid to get downfield to make plays in the backfield. His football intelligence helps him position himself to force the flow of a play to more favorable places for the defense.
He reads the quarterback well in coverage and excels at reading the quarterback’s eyes. These instincts are something that Bob Quinn covets in his defensive players, as evident by the Teez Tabor selection. With Reeves-Maybin, the Detroit Lions are getting a football player. That phrase is often overused, but he is a kid that understands the game and uses that understanding as a serious asset.
Reeves-Maybin loves to use his reaction speed as a way to get downhill quickly. He is aggressive when attacking the line of scrimmage and loves to shoot gaps against the run. His quickness to react and his aggressiveness complement each other very well against the run. It seemed like the Lions’ linebackers were always on their heels last year. They weren’t making plays in the backfield. They weren’t meeting the runner in the hole. This is an area that Reeves-Maybin offers some improvement. When he finds that seam that the runner is looking for, he attacks it and tries to blow up the play.
Sideline to Sideline Chaser
He utilizes his long speed very well and takes good angles in pursuit. Reeves-Maybin is the type of linebacker that can make a misstep and still chase the runner down on the opposite side of the field. His 4.68 second 40 yard dash time and good 10 and 20-yard splits are on full display in pursuit.
Paired with his impressive speed at the linebacker position, he also plays with consistently good effort. He doesn’t take plays off. He doesn’t give up on plays. Reeves-Maybin plays hard the entire game. He isn’t wearing down in the fourth quarter. He is the type of player that is going to chase a guy 50 yards down the sideline and knock them out of bounds. This high motor helps accent his abilities in pursuit and also helps him as a special teams asset.
While his testing at his pro day didn’t show a particularly explosive player in small areas, his tape shows good lateral agility. When Reeves-Maybin has a slow reaction or a bad read, he is quick to readjust and change direction. He moves fluidly from side to side and shows exceptional ability to navigate through traffic. As a smaller player, this is an important part of his game. He utilizes his intelligence and his lateral quickness to avoid players in congested areas and make plays on the ball carrier. With big bodies in the middle of our defense like A’shawn Robinson, players tend to anchor more than penetrate, this ability to avoid trash is an important trait for a Detroit Lions’ linebacker.
Wrapping Up The Ball Carrier
While Reeves-Maybin is not known for his tackling ability, he does wrap up the ball carrier. He isn’t one of those incredibly frustrating guys that put their head down and just run into people. He doesn’t just hope that the player goes down. Likely a product of his small size, he puts heavy emphasis on wrapping up and dragging down the ball carrier. For a team that missed few tackles last year, this had to be a valuable trait to the Lions during the scouting process. That being said, tackling is not a strong aspect of his game. His lunging and diving is something that the Detroit coaching staff needs to clean up.
Linebacker coverage ability is something that was in high demand for this team going into the draft. We saw what happens when you have a linebacker who can’t cover. We saw Armbrister get targeted play after play for completion after completion. This is not something that fans wanted to see replicated in this upcoming season. In that regard, fans should be very happy with this pick. He is still raw in coverage, as most rookie linebackers are, but he has shown promise in this area. His ability to diagnose a play, read a quarterback’s eyes, and get his hands in the way of the football are going to help this team in coverage down the road. He has shown to have the speed to run with most tight ends and the quickness to follow them out of their breaks. This coverage ability is something that Teryl Austin is likely to find a use for in the next few years.
Reeves-Maybin is undersized. There is no way around that. At 6’0 and 230 pounds, he is a very small linebacker. He has short arms at 32 1/4 inches, giving him a smaller tackle radius than most players at the position. Size has been a concern for him as a linebacker his entire career. He has learned to tweak his game to minimize the issues that small linebackers encounter, but there are some things that he just won’t be able to do. It will likely be a limiting factor for him his entire career, and there are questions as to how much weight he can actually gain with his frame. His lack of ideal size branches out, creating most of the other weaknesses that you see in his game
Reeves-Maybin is not the type of linebacker that is going to blow up a runner with a full head of steam. He wraps up, but he is not going to stop a runner dead in his tracks. Once a runner gets going, Reeves-Maybin tends to give ground after contact. He can still make the tackle, but it isn’t the immediate shut down stop that you like to see. He often lunges at the ball carrier or dives at their legs, resulting in a lot of missed tackles. He minimizes this by getting downhill quickly and meeting runners early in the play, but he is never going to be a guy that wins head on against bruising backs.
Taking On Blocks
He just isn’t big enough to take on blockers at the second level. You like to see a linebacker be able to meet a blocker and force a runner in a new direction. You like to see a linebacker who can hit a fullback in the hole and blow up a play. He is not that kind of linebacker. His size just doesn’t allow it. He doesn’t have the size and strength to get off blocks well once he is engaged. He is really good at getting around blockers and getting through the muck in the middle of the field, but that isn’t ideal on every play. Linebackers want to dictate runners and blockers. Not the other way around. The best linebackers can take on blocks or avoid them. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is limited in that capacity.
This is both a positive and negative aspect to Reeves-Maybin. Aggressiveness is a great trait for a linebacker, but sometimes that aggressiveness needs to be reined in. Normally sound in his reads and instincts, his aggressiveness is usually an advantage for him. In the cases that he misreads a play, it can come back to bite him. He especially struggles with play action, something that he will see a lot of in the NFL. This will hopefully come in time for him. Many aggressive players rein in their aggressiveness after entering the NFL. It is easy to be over-aggressive when you are more athletic than everyone else on the field. That isn’t the case in the NFL, and players usually learn this and tweak their game accordingly.
This is the most obvious of the knocks against Reeves-Maybin. He has now had two shoulder surgeries. The latest of them limited his participation at the combine. He did, however, test at his pro day, and he has been cleared to play football. That does not make his injury history any less concerning. Two shoulder surgeries would be concerning for a larger linebacker. It is even more concerning for a player of his size, especially when the players that he will be playing will be bigger stronger and faster than his college competition.
There is no way to predict his injuries going forward, but there are obvious concerns there. The best that we can hope for is that he bulks up a bit and that his shoulder is completely healed.
His Future With The Lions
I would expect the Detroit Lions to ease Reeves-Maybin into action. I wouldn’t expect to see him on the field very often early in this upcoming season on defense. They will likely be cautious with his shoulder, and they will probably also give him time to get back up to speed with the game of football. He still appears to be in excellent football shape, but it will take some time to get the processing speed back to where it was before the injury. His ability to read and react to plays is one of the strongest parts of his game, and he won’t be ready to contribute until he is comfortable doing that at the NFL level.
Early in the season, we will likely see him playing on special teams. His ability to be an immediate contributor in this area was likely a draw for Bob Quinn. He likes guys that can play special teams if they can’t contribute immediately at their usual position, and as special teams standout during his freshman year, he projects to do well in this role for the Lions.
Down the road, perhaps as early as later this season (optimistically), Reeves-Maybin will have the opportunity to compete for a starting job, and he should have smaller contributions in the meantime. The most likely position for him, with the current linebacker landscape, is probably as a weakside linebacker, with Jarrad Davis playing in the middle. Ideally, he will be able to provide coverage on the weak side of the formation and chase runs across the field.
Until he has developed to the point where he can take over a starting position among the linebackers, he will likely be used in sub packages to help shore up coverage. Regardless of how he is deployed, I expect to see him getting some reps toward the end of the season. If he develops well, he should have the opportunity to carve out a role for himself by the beginning of next season, and he has the raw athleticism to potentially make the most of it. This is all contingent on him staying healthy. Fingers crossed.