Jalen … is an interesting film to evaluate. Let me just say he certainly stands out on the field. Unfortunately, that is both in a positive and a negative context. But you cannot miss him on the field, as he FLYS around.
First, as always, the positives. Jalen is a converted safety and as you would imagine, his speed is definitely an asset. His 40 time of 4.68 doesn’t do it justice , he is a blur out there. He can run sideline to sideline and can keep players from getting to the edge. It also serves him well in coverage, whether man or zone. He has boundless energy and he’s always coming. When he hits you, you feel it. He blew up several players/plays on his film. He’s also really excellent against screens to his side (more on that later), something I owe to his ability to shed (getting blockers off of him). For an undersized guy, he is pretty adept at shedding blockers and getting to the play.
Now, the negatives. As I will discuss more when I discuss the Lions first round pick, the two most important traits that I look for in a linebacker are 1. Can he diagnose the play in front of him (instincts) and 2. Can he tackle ? I feel like those are critical, because really every other linebacker attribute is useless if you cant find a play and then end the play. In terms of instincts, Jalen could use some work. I get that, being he was a safety first, but sometimes he is taken so far out of the play by not recognizing what is going on in front of him. Now a lot of times, he can recover and get back into the play with his speed, but it usually leaves him off balance when he arrives …. which leads into #2. While his instincts need work, his tackling needs a COMPLETE REBUILD. Simply put he is just an awful tackler. His technique is bad, as he often dips his head and fails to wrap up. He just throws his body into people which while sometimes causes big hits, more often causes them to bounce off of him and get more yards. Compounding that, he often plays wildly out of control. He overruns plays badly and got juked completely out of his cleats more than a few times. It’s one thing when Baker Mayfield does it to you and another when a non-descript running back from Bowling Green does it to you. Also, while he does shed well, he often has to give up ground to do so, meaning he is ceding 3-4 yards to the ball carrier in the process. And when blockers do get locked on to him, they can take him for a long ride down the field due to his size. I don’t blame that last part so much on him, as I do on Tennessee’s scheme. With a guy like him, your D-Line needs to occupy linemen. He had to deal with them on a regular basis.
So all this considered, I really did not like this pick at first. Especially when Jarrad Davis does a lot of the same things Jalen does, but with less downside.
However, as I think of Teryl Austin, and what he likes to do scheme-wise, I begin to see some upside to this pick. We used a lot of 3 and 4 safety sets last year in their nickel and dime packages (out of necessity because both our corners and linebackers were terrible) and I think that Teryl may want to recreate that, except with chess pieces better equipped for the job.
I think they will use him a lot in the nickel. Now, and hear me out, that seems very unconventional when you consider we just drafted two corners and signed DJ Hayden (TO A FIVE MILLION/YR CONTRACT – BLEH !) so why would we use a LB in that role ?
Well it would only be against certain looks and against certain packages, but out in space a lot of the negatives in Jalen’s game are erased. He can play outside in , and he won’t have to deal with being engulfed by linemen. He’s more of an oversized safety, than an undersized LB and I think in that role he can thrive. Of course they will likely also be grooming him to be a nickel LB, so they can throw him and Davis out there and we never have to see Tahir Whitehead on 3rd down again. But a big nickel package with him covering a flex TE or a RB or a jumbo receiver could be a great way to use Jalen’s best skills while minimizing his weaknesses. That’s a whole lot of projecting, but I’m trying to be optimistic here !
So overall, Maybin-Reeves is a twitchy, fast linebacker, that struggles with instincts and tackling, and also just had a major shoulder injury. His selection means the Miles Killibrew nickel experiment is probably over, and he will focus on SS full-time. I’m also very intrigued/scared at the prospect of Jalen on Special Teams as he will fly down the field, but also likely miss a ton of tackles until his technique improves. Strangely though, he seemed to tackle better in space than in a booth, so hopefully that translates to ST as well.
On face value, I would give this pick a D …. But because I have faith in Teryl Austin I will upgrade it to a C-. With glaring holes at both base end and 3-tech, I would have liked to see us go in that direction, rather than taking a project LB with health concerns. But I think Austin will find a useful way to deploy Jalen when it is all said and done.
What do you think ? Share in the comments !