ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions drafted Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night, then traded up to pick Boston College defensive back Will Harris in the third.
Tavai is second on Hawaii’s career list in tackles and was on preseason watch lists last year for the Bronko Nagurski and Butkus awards. He averaged 10.2 tackles a game, but a shoulder injury cut his 2018 season short, and he played in only eight games.
“Shoulder’s doing great,” Tavai said on a teleconference Friday night. “I’m just getting excited to be able to get into pads again.”
In 2017, he started all 12 games at middle linebacker and ranked 10th nationally in tackles.
The Lions took Harris with the 81st pick, which they acquired from Minnesota. A four-year player at Boston College, Harris was a starter since late in his freshman season and earned third-team All-ACC honors as a senior.
Detroit took Tavai with the 43rd pick — the highest a Hawaii player has been drafted since Tennessee took defensive end Travis LaBoy at No. 42 in 2004.
An NFL.com analyst projected Tavai to go in the fourth or fifth round , and Detroit’s pick in the first half of the second round was a bit of a surprise. The Lions took tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round Thursday night.
“Prior to the draft, what my agent was telling me, it was either day two or day three,” Tavai said. “So really I wasn’t really sure. I was just waiting for a phone call within those rounds.”
In addition to being a football standout, Tavai has also been an impressive rugby player and was named to an Under-18 U.S. national team.
“Big thing with rugby, especially in sevens, is learning how to make a better tackle in the open field,” Tavai said. “So that was one thing that really helped me in football.”
The last time the Lions took a linebacker in the draft was 2017, when they selected Jarrad Davis in the first round and Jalen Reeves-Maybin in the fourth.