The 2019 off-ball linebacker class is one of the more intriguing position groups in the 2019 NFL Draft. Not highly regarded coming in to the NFL Scouting Combine, the off-ball linebackers stunned by testing out extremely well. There were several prospects who were regarded as having good tape but not the athleticism to play at a high level at the NFL, only to have those perceptions smashed at the Combine.
But while those who worked out might have seen their draft stock rise, other players have had to fall. Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai has been sidelined since late October as he recovers from shoulder surgery, which has kept him out of the All-Star games, the Combine, and his school’s pro day.
However, he is an intriguing player who might deserve a closer look from a New York Giants team that needs to improve both their starting linebacker play and the depth of the unit.
- Good frame and build.
- Solid instincts, usually takes an accurate first step.
- Fast mental processing, reacts quickly to offensive wrinkles.
- Capable coverage player in shallow zones.
- Relentless motor. Never slows down in pursuit of a play.
- Quick to come downhill against the run or as a blitzer.
- Versatile. Experienced as an inside and outside linebacker, as well as an EDGE.
- Shows a solid closing burst.
- Strong taking on blockers.
- Missed the second half of the season, as well as much of the draft process recovering from shoulder surgery.
- Was suspended for the first game of the season for violating team rules, possibly related to an incident at a nightclub.
- Long speed is a question. Doesn’t appear to be particularly rangy.
- Doesn’t show great short-area quickness or lateral agility
What They’re Saying
“Jahlani Tavai is an intelligent linebacker who has the consistency in his reads needed to be in proper positioning and help a defense. Tavai’s challenges stem from him not being the most dynamic functional athlete, he’s a bit of a throwback linebacker who doesn’t project all that favorably to today’s spaced out NFL game. Tavai has a role to play, but I’m not sold on his functional athleticism allowing him a role as a three down linebacker.”
- Kyle Crabbs (The Draft Network - Scouting Report)
Does He Fit The Giants?
Tavai’s versatility to play multiple positions in multiple fronts suggests that he would be able to find a fit in the Giants’ front seven.
He might not be a starter for the Giants, but he could be valuable as a reserve linebacker who could play either the strong-inside, middle, or outside linebacker roles depending on the down, distance, sub package, and the team’s need. Tavai might not have the athleticism to be a three-down starter at the next level, but his instincts, versatility, and motor are more than good enough to be useful in the right circumstances or make a team confident in its depth.
It should be noted that there are several prospects this year who’s athleticism was somewhat hidden by their instincts but revealed in combine testing. It is possible that Tavai was another in that vein of player, but because he is still recovering from shoulder surgery, we can’t know how he would have tested in relation to the rest of the draft class.
Those same attributes -- intelligence, motor, and versatility -- should also allow him to carve out a role as a key special teams player, which could keep him on a roster for years to come. There are some who viewed him as a potential Day 2 selection (perhaps as high as the second round) based on his play at Hawaii, but after his injury and prolonged recovery, Tavai could be a value on the last day of the draft.