The 2016 season was supposed to be an impressive senior campaign for Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who was coming off two 100-plus tackle seasons. Instead, just four weeks into the season, he found himself sidelined with a shoulder injury, which would require a second surgery and end his season early. During his rehab, he faced a tough decision: take a medical redshirt and return for one more season or declare for the NFL Draft.
After speaking with those closest to him, Reeves-Maybin decided he would finish out the season in Tennessee and get ready to play in the NFL.
His season on the sideline wasn’t wasted, however. Always looking for a way to support his teammates, Reeves-Maybin took his role as a leader seriously.
“I had a pretty big leadership role during my time at Tennessee; it’s something I plan on building on at the next level,” Reeves-Maybin told SB Nation.
Saturday, Reeves-Maybin was selected by the Detroit Lions.
Reeves-Maybin’s injury had a silver lining
Considered by some as the quarterback of the defense, the linebacker position will require Reeves-Maybin to utilize everything he learned both on and off the field to develop as a leader in the NFL. He’s used to that kind of responsibility with the Volunteers, and thinks his injury will help him in the long run.
While sitting out, Reeves-Maybin was able to see the game from a coach’s perspective, which turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
“It forces you to see the small details in things and how small problems can lead to bigger problems,” Reeves-Maybin said. “You can tell when someone’s having a good day or bad day because you’re not focused on what you gotta do, you have a clear view on everything.”
Dr. James Andrews says he’s fully cleared
Since making the decision to turn pro, the linebacker has been dedicated to training down in Pensacola, Florida, and getting his body healthy enough to compete. Despite being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Reeves-Maybin’s shoulder wasn’t completely healed, forcing him to sit out of drills.
A day before Tennessee’s pro day, Dr. James Andrews said in a letter that Reeves-Maybin was “fully cleared.” The linebacker said that he plans to participate in all of the drills except the bench press at his pro day on March 31.
“You’re never going to know if you’re fully 100 until you start playing again. But I’m feeling good, I don’t really have any limitations,” Reeves-Maybin told SBNation.
He may not have been able to work out for teams at the combine, but he was able to meet with them. Fortunately, Reeves-Maybin has three solid years of film to rely on — including 206 total tackles and eight sacks in just two seasons — and an off-field reputation he’s proud of.
“I think for the most part the film is going to speak for itself,” he said. “The stats and reputation I built for myself at Tennessee, I think that speaks for itself also.”
Versatility is more important to NFL teams than size
The combine sparks size debates from draft analysts across the Internet, and at 6’0, 230 pounds, the linebacker is on the smaller side compared to his competition. Some may consider his size a weakness, but Reeves-Maybin said that the teams he’s met with haven’t seemed concerned.
“I’ve talked to a few teams about what weight I feel comfortable at and some teams want you to gain and some teams just want you to build strength, it’s kind of different from team to team. But it’s definitely something I have to continue to work on, playing and staying at a nice size weight and continue to build my strength.”
Fortunately for the prospect, the league seems to be shifting toward a smaller, faster linebacker, like 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee. Similar in size, Reeves-Maybin also sees the trend, but credits the need for versatility at all positions over the need for speed.
“It’s becoming such a pad-heavy league, and you know the offenses are changing in the NFL but I think it’s just about versatility, more so than just pure speed everywhere. Versatility at safety, versatility at running back, versatility at tight end, so I feel like all the positions are really changing to the common thing — you can say speed — but also just versatility. Being able to do multiple aspects of the game.”
Players are often asked to step into roles that they might not be used to, and that includes Reeves-Maybin. While teams haven’t asked him to switch positions, they have talked to him about his comfort level playing in space or playing out guarding the receiver.
Who was the best player he faced at Tennessee?
One place he’s been challenged to the point of success is against the run, thanks to Tennessee teammate — and fellow draft prospect — Alvin Kamara. Reeves-Maybin named the running back as the toughest player he faced in college, which is quite the compliment considering all of the former SEC competitors who are now training for the NFL right alongside him.
“It’s kinda cool just seeing all the guys you’ve been playing against the last couple of years or that you’ve been competing with, and no one knows each other and then when you come in together that weird feeling of being around those guys.”
Training with a new group of guys and stepping outside of his comfort zone will be a good test for the months ahead. After the NFL Draft in late April, Reeves-Maybin will roll right into a whirlwind of rookie minicamps and getting acclimated to his new team and city.
The linebacker has long been a student of the game, and wants to show his knowledge and ability to talk about the game to his new team and coaches. He said he’s eager to “put that confidence in them that I’m a guy they don’t have to worry about” on and off the field.
Expected to be a mid-round pick because of his shoulder injury, Reeves-Maybin is confident that whatever team lands him will be getting a guy who is ready to contribute the same way he did in college.