Free agent profile: Could Jalen Reeves-Maybin finally get a shot under a new regime?

Pride of Detroit

For the past four seasons, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin has been one of the most undertold stories for the Detroit Lions. A fourth-round pick in 2017, Reeves-Maybin entered the league with an intriguing athletic profile and some potential huge upside.

However, despite showing some promise as a linebacker in his rookie season, Reeves-Maybin has pretty much been profiled as a special teamer for his entire career. Despite the fact that he’s one of the speedier linebackers on the team that could actually hold his own in coverage, his undersized frame has scared off coaches from playing him much at all on defense. But his skills on special teams have kept him on the roster, and he’s actually played in 55 of 64 possible games since entering the league.

With a new coaching staff in town, could Reeves-Maybin finally see his role grow in Detroit? Or will the young linebacker be looking to play elsewhere in 2021?

Previous free agent profiles: Danny Amendola, Matt Prater, Jamal Agnew, Everson Griffen, Duron Harmon, Kenny Golladay, Don Muhlbach

Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Expectations heading into 2020

Given that Matt Patricia likes his linebackers over 250 pounds, there was little hope that Reeves-Maybin would suddenly become a key piece to this defense. At 6-foot, 233 pounds, he’s just not the kind of run-stuffing defender that Patricia wants, so it was pretty clear that—if Reeves-Maybin even made the team—he would be mostly relegated to special teams, where he had proven his worth in previous seasons.

Actual role in 2020

16 games (0 starts): 10 tackles
PFF grade: 531. on defense; 71.5 on special teams

As expected, Reeves-Maybin had almost no role on defense. He had a career-low 28 snaps on that side of the ball, yet still remained quite effective on special teams. Seven of his 10 season tackles came on special teams and his 352 snaps on special teams was the most on the team. He was an essential piece of all four special team units (kick coverage/return, punt coverage/return).

Outlook for 2021

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Whether Reeves-Maybin will be back in 2021 depends heavily on what the new coaching staff prioritizes in a linebacker and on special teams.

New defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has intimated that the Lions’ defense will take influences from both the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams. If that’s the case, an “undersized” linebacker like Reeves-Maybin could actually have a role.

Last year, the Saints traded for 6-foot-1, 227 pound linebacker Kwon Alexander, who was decent for New Orleans as a coverage linebacker. Even inside linebacker Alex Anzalone (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) isn’t the bulky linebacker Patricia would want (Note: Anzalone is also a free agent in 2021).

The same can be said of the Rams. Here’s a look at their inside linebackers for 2020:

  • MIcah Kiser: 6-foot, 244 pounds
  • Troy Reeder: 6-foot-3, 245 pounds
  • Kenny Young: 6-foot-1, 234 pounds

Without a doubt, Reeves-Maybin would have a better chance to contribute on defense in Detroit under new head coach Dan Campbell. However, questions still remain whether he is capable of it. He’s never played more than 297 snaps in a season, and his level of play when on defense has been mixed, at best.

Still, for a team strapped for cap space this offseason, Reeves-Maybin could be an economical re-signing that would keep Detroit’s special teams talent high and bring some depth to a linebacking unit that has struggled for years now. At 26 years old, Reeves-Maybin still has plenty of football left to be played, though he may understandably want to find a new home after a quiet four years in Detroit.

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