The Los Angeles Rams might be looking at drafting some competition at inside linebacker. Jahlani Tavai is a tackling machine at Hawai’i. Standing at 6’2″ and 250 pounds, he has the size to be a 3-4 inside linebacker. He could instantly add some punch to the Rams defense particularly against the run. A likely mid-round prospect, Tavai brings intensity and passion to any defense and would likely be more heralded if he had played at another school.
College stats and honors:
2018: 82 tackles, 42 solo, 5.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble.
Career: 390 tackles, 220 solo, 41 for loss, 16.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 pass breakups, 3 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumbles.
Honors: All-Mountain West Honorable Mention (2018), Defensive MVP (2018), 2nd team All-Mountain West (2017), Defensive MVP (2017), 1st team All-Mountain West (2016).
The first thing you notice about Tavai is how active he is. He plays with a passion and intensity that results in him always being around the football. As a tackling machine at Hawai’i, a four-year starter and is second of all-time in tackles at Hawai’i.
Tavai possesses great read-and-react ability and awareness, and rarely getting caught out of position. He’s a great tackler with a tough demeanor that stems from playing rugby. An underrated aspect of his game is his ability as a blitzer, Tavai shows a little bend around the edge as well as a quick inside move. Generally, Tavai takes good angles in pursuit as well. Tavai is strong at the point of attack and doesn’t let blockers maul him. He does a good job of sifting through the trash to get to the ball carrier. He has enough athleticism to play his role.
Tavai is not the greatest athlete. He does show the ability to make plays, but his top end speed isn’t adequate enough. Although Tavai is a great run defender, he needs to work on shedding blocks faster as he will sometimes get caught up dealing with offensive lineman and miss his opportunity.
Tavai does enough in coverage and is better in zone. His lack of athleticism makes him a liability in man coverage against shifty backs and athletic tight ends. Occasionally, his aggressiveness will lead him to over pursue the ball carrier. Tavai was suspended for Hawaii’s season opener for his role in a fight at a nightclub in 2018. He also did suffer from a season-ending shoulder injury that did require surgery in 2018.
Expected Draft round:
Tavai is a solid inside linebacker. While not the most athletic, his instincts will make up for some of that. He will make plays in the NFL and has enough short area athleticism to be an effective run defender. Not a coverage linebacker, however, he does display good awareness in coverage and can be good in zone coverage. Tavai can be used as an effective blitzer and is one of the better tacklers in this draft class. Tavai could develop into a really good linebacker at the next level and his passion leads me to believe he will. I expect him to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round.
Manti Te’o, Rey Maualuga