Jalen Reeves-Maybin: The Future Of The Lions Defense
Original Article by: Lucas Walker via Detroit Lions Podcast
Jalen Reeves-Maybin was born on January 31st, 1995. Raised in Clarksville, Tennessee, Reeves-Maybin went to Northeast High School. During his high school career, Reeves-Maybin actually played running back, which is a testament to how athletic he is. In his senior season, he rushed for 2,000 yards, including three postseason games where he ran for over 300 yards in each of them. In 2013, he joined the Tennessee Volunteers and started his collegiate career.
Reeves-Maybin was also a backup and special teamer for his first collegiate season in 2013. He recorded 14 tackles that season. His breakout came sooner than Davis’ though, as Reeves-Maybin cracked the starting lineup as a weakside linebacker in 2014. That year, he played every game, making 101 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
His dominance would continue into his junior season in 2015 when he topped his previous year, this time recording 105 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, four passes defended and two forced fumbles. This included an epic game against the Oklahoma Sooners where Reeves-Maybin recorded 21 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one pass defended and a forced fumble. This is especially impressive because the Sooners had two runningbacks who are now in the NFL: Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
In 2016, disaster struck for Reeves-Maybin. Four weeks into the season, he suffered a shoulder injury which knocked him out for the season. There is no questioning that Reeves-Maybin had great talent, but now there are questions about whether or not he will be able to ever fully come back from the injury.
The Detroit Lions decided to take a chance on Jalen Reeves-Maybin and drafted him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He will have a chance to compete for the starting role at the weakside linebacker spot this training camp and preseason.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin is a very athletic linebacker with the ability to cover quick running backs or tight ends, and even receivers. Here is a play where Reeves-Maybin is in man coverage against a wide receiver. The receiver is running a crossing route. Typically, this route is effective against linebackers because it allows receivers to use their speed to run away from them, but not here. Reeves-Maybin gets a good press on the receiver, then sticks with him throughout his route. Because of the good coverage, the Tennessee defense gets a sack. I strongly believe that any of the Lions linebackers from last year would be unable to cover this kind of route.
There are plenty of linebackers with the athleticism to do what Reeves-Maybin does though. What really sets Reeves-Maybin apart is his instincts – he has a really good idea of how most plays are going to develop. This results in one of the first things I notice when I watch his game film: an uncanny ability to blow up screen passes. Here is an example.
Reeves-Maybin is covering the running back, who motions out of the backfield to the slot receiver position. Reeves-Maybin follows him out there, and sees that it is a screen pass to the running back as the pass is thrown almost as soon as the ball is snapped. Jalen Reeves-Maybin does a fantastic job of getting around his blocker, then puts a big hit on the back. Reeves-Maybin knew exactly how the play was going to develop, and as a result, he stopped the running back for a big loss.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin contributes to run defense through his speed and play recognition ability. He is not as strong as most other NFL linebackers, but his quickness and intelligence enables him to have an impact despite being a smaller linebacker. Here are a few examples of Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s ability to stop running plays.
On this 3rd down and one play against Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt runs a fullback dive play. This is a very commonly run play in short yardage situations, and Reeves-Maybin does a fantastic job of recognizing it. He immediately finds a gap in the offensive line and shoots through it. Reeves-Maybin is then the first defender to the ball carrier, and wraps him up. Teammates come in to help Reeves-Maybin finish the tackle, and Vanderbilt is stopped short of the first down marker.
On this play against the Oklahoma Sooners, Reeves-Maybin does not bring down the runner at the line of scrimmage or for a loss. What he does, however, is show great determination and heart as he chases the running back down all the way across the field. The running back cuts the run to the opposite direction of Reeves-Maybin, but Reeves-Maybin is not deterred. He pursues the back all the way to the opposite side of the field, and brings him down for a medium gain. This is the kind of play that likely would have gone for a much bigger gain against the Lions linebackers from 2016.
BLITZING/QB SPYING ABILITY
Jalen Reeves-Maybin is an extremely effective pass rusher from the middle or 4-3 outside linebacker position. He had six sacks in 2015, which is an extremely high number for a 4-3 linebacker. He is also great at tracking the quarterback when he is spying. Here is an example of each.
On this play, Davis is spying the Oklahoma quarterback. Reeves-Maybin stays about two yards in front of the line of scrimmage so he can see whether or not the quarterback will scramble. The quarterback instead tries to throw a pass over the middle, but Reeves-Maybin does a tremendous job of jumping up and deflecting the pass. This play was nearly an interception because Reeves-Maybin is effective at spying the quarterback and because of his great instincts.
Against BGSU, Jalen Reeves-Maybin had a very good game. Here, he sacks the quarterback on a key red zone third down. It is a blitz all the way from Reeves-Maybin, and he does a great job of finding a hole in the offensive line between the left tackle and guard. Reeves-Maybin accelerates through and gets a clean hit on the quarterback before he can get rid of the ball. Because of Reeves-Maybin’s speed, he is extremely effective at blitzing. He can run right through the offensive line if he is unaccounted for.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin was also a team captain at Tennessee. He too will have a chance to become a leader on the Lions defense. Where I believe he will really inspire teammates is with his effort though. On nearly every play, Reeves-Maybin ends up near where the ball is. He leaves it all on the field every game, and I believe that this passion for football makes him a great fit as a potential future leader of the Lions defense.