Jahlani Tavai was one of the standout performers in the Patriots 29-0 shutout of the Lions, as the linebacker has emerged in the last two weeks as a near every-down defender who can play multiple spots.
Signed to the practice squad out of opening cuts in 2021, Tavai was quickly promoted to the active roster last season but spent most of the year as a special teams player (57 percent). But over the last two games, Tavai has played over 75 percent of the defensive snaps in both contests, while playing across the defensive formation. Last week against the Lions, Tavai played snaps on both edges (27 snaps) as well as both inside spots (22 snaps), while also maintaining his presence on special teams (58% of ST snaps).
"Jahlani's one of our most versatile players," said head coach Bill Belichick on Monday. "So he's a player that's really played well in all those roles. But he has a multitude of things we have asked him to do defensively. It's given our defense some flexibility and versatility and that's valuable for the different offenses you have to match up against.
"Again, to be able to have all those roles that comes with a player who's not only smart but also instinctive, and can be put in different positions from play-to-play from down-to-down and still react and function at a high level at multiple spots without us having to substitute multiple players on every play and then tell the offense what grouping we have in and what we're going to be. He's been great."
Linebackers coach Jerod Mayo agreed with the head coach's assessment.
"He gives you that versatility, like many of the linebackers that we've had here in the past, a guy who can line up on the outside also line up off the ball, a guy who dropped into zone coverage, a guy with good instincts and to do a lot of different things," said Mayo. "So he's definitely doing a good job for us and I look forward to continuing to coach him and see where his development takes."
Tavai was selected by Matt Patricia's Lions in the second round of the 2019 draft but never lived up to that billing in Detroit. Against his former team, Tavai was all over the place, including a great coverage rep on Jack Jones' interception, flashing the potential his original team hoped he may have achieved in his first years in the league.
With 2022 being a year of turnover at the linebacker spot, Tavai has emerged in the early weeks as a player with long-term defensive potential.