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Lions ride trend of smaller linebacker with Jalen Reeves-Maybin

The linebacker is ready to put his injury behind him and contribute at the next level.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions added versatile linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to their defense with the No. 124 pick in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft — pairing him with first-round selection Jarrad Davis.

The linebacker out of Tennessee almost entered the draft in 2016, but instead returned for his senior season. He played in only four games before a labrum tear in his shoulder sidelined him for the rest of the season and required surgery. He decided to forgo a medical redshirt and set his sights on impressing teams at the combine.

He wasn’t able to participate in all of the drills at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he still met with teams and the media to make his case. Fortunately, he was coming off back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and had enough film for NFL scouts to analyze despite his final season being cut short. The linebacker recorded 240 total tackles, 8.0 sacks — 6.0 sacks in 2015 alone — and three turnovers during his time at Tennessee.

Why did Lions pick Reeves-Maybin?

The versatile linebacker is aggressive despite his size and will be a good representative of the team both on and off the field. The former Vols captain knows that his position requires him to be a strong and vocal leader, a challenge he embraces.

Leadership

Reeves-Maybin is the type of guy who coaches don’t have to worry about off the field and are happy to have in the locker room. He prides himself on the way he led the defense for the Volunteers, and he used his time on the sideline last season to get a new perspective on how to more effectively support and uplift his teammates.

“It forces you to see the small details in things and how small problems can lead to bigger problems,” Reeves-Maybin told SBNation in March. “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.”

Reeves-Maybin is prepared to lead by example and wants to build on the work he did at Tennessee. Having a young guy the team can rely on to make good decisions and mold into a franchise player will translate onto the field — even if that means taking rookie snaps on special teams.

Versatility

When Reeves-Maybin spoke with teams at the combine, he mentioned that some expressed interest in his comfort level playing in space and out guarding the receiver. He isn’t expected to make the move to the secondary but rather use his diverse skill set to make the most impact on defense at the linebacker position.

He told SBNation, “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.”

The league has been shifting toward smaller linebackers over the past few draft cycles, and Reeves-Maybin will benefit from the trend. He excels at attacking the line of scrimmage and accelerates through the tackle — his size doesn’t stop him from being physical.

Are there any concerns with Reeves-Maybin?

The main concern with the Vols linebacker is his ability to stay healthy. He showed commitment to a long-term solution in October when he elected to have shoulder surgery under the oft-trusted hands of esteemed sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who cleared Reeves-Maybin just before Tennessee’s pro day.

Anonymous scouts and analysts cited the linebacker’s 6’0, 230-pound frame as a concern for teams ahead of the draft, but Reeves-Maybin didn’t share that opinion. He acknowledged that some teams had mentioned building strength, something he was focused on as well, but that “concern” wasn’t the right word to describe it.