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Patriots Player Profile: Jahlani Tavai

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The Patriots have fallen to 2-7 with yet another loss this past Sunday. New England fell to the Washington Commanders 20-17 in Foxborough, and one of the players that helped keep them in the game was five-year veteran linebacker Jahlani Tavai. Tavai has been stringing good weeks of play together since his heads-up interception in week six against the Raiders, off the hit Jabrill Peppers delivered to Davante Adams.

With 10:26 left on the clock in the second quarter of the week nine matchup, the Patriots were down 10-0 with the Commanders driving, until Tavai peanut-punched the ball out of Brian Robinson’s hands, causing a fumble which was recovered by New England. The Patriots then took over on their own 26, and the fumble led to points in the form of a Hunter Henry touchdown. The Patriots would find themselves up 14-10 going into halftime, partly in thanks to Tavai. So far this season, Tavai has tallied 54 total tackles, a sack, an interception, three pass breakups, three tackles for loss, and the forced fumble that came against Washington.

Tavai would finish the game with six tackles along with the forced fumble. Although Tavai doesn’t necessarily put up crazy numbers, he always seems to be in the right place at the right time at key moments in games, another great example of this was his interception in Vegas, as mentioned earlier. Tavai has proven to be a steady, consistent linebacker for New England, who can rush the quarterback just as well as he can drop back into coverage.

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Tavai found himself in New England before the 2021 season by way of Detroit, who drafted him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, 43rd overall. Tavai had a decent rookie season in Detroit, posting 58 total tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, an interception, two pass breakups, and four tackles for loss in 15 games played. Tavai would follow up his rookie season with very similar numbers, but that would not prove to be enough, with him getting waived after the 2020 season. It seemed that the linebacker was meant to end up in New England, with Head Coach Bill Belichick mentioning that he and the New England scouting team had their eyes on him going into the draft.

Tavai would start on New England’s practice squad in 2021 before eventually being elevated in week seven against the Jets. Tavai would end up playing in 13 games in his first season with New England, grabbing 14 tackles and a fumble recovery. The following season, Tavai would play in all 17 games, being named a starter in week five, and would put up 69 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups, and four tackles for loss. Late in 2022, Tavai and the Patriots would agree to a two-year extension worth $4.4 million.

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The California native played his college ball at the University of Hawaii, being the third member of his family to play college football. Tavai’s two older brothers, J.R. and Jordan Tavai were said to be the inspiration for Jahlani to start playing football. J.R. played his college ball at USC before signing to the Titans as an undrafted free agent, he would then play in the Canadian league before bouncing around in the international league. Jordan played for Kansas.

Tavai also has two younger brothers, both of which also play football, and funnily enough, one of them, Justus Tavai, was signed to New England for a quick stint after this past draft, before becoming a free agent again. With all his other brothers playing defensive line, Jahlani is the only brother to play linebacker.

Tavai graduated from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California, where he lived up to the reputation his older brothers left behind on the gridiron, as well as being a standout volleyball player. After graduating from Mira Costa, Tavai would redshirt his 2014 freshman season at Hawaii. In 2015, Tavai would play in 11 of 13 games, posting 56 tackles, five of which for loss, and three sacks.

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In his sophomore season, Tavai would lead his conference with 19.5 tackles for loss, 129 total tackles, and seven sacks. The linebacker's performance in 2016 would earn him the accolade of First-Team All-Mountain West. Tavai would pick up another honorable accolade in his junior season, earning Second Team All-Conference, with him being ranked tenth in the FBS. Tavai’s numbers were astounding once again, with 124 tackles, and leading Hawaii in both tackles for loss and sacks, with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, Tavai’s senior season would be plagued by circumstance and injury, with him missing the 2018 season opener due to legal trouble, as well as missing the last month of the season with a shoulder injury. Despite the setbacks, Tavai still earned Honorable Mention All-Conference. Even though Tavai played in just eight games, he put up 82 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick.

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Tavai seemed to really enjoy his time at Hawaii, with him already having friends and family out there and being of Samoan descent, Hawaii seemed like a natural fit. Tavai is still very involved with the community of Hawaii, using his platform to raise awareness for the wildfires on Maui that took place over the summer, stating that he had friends and family who were directly affected by the tragedy.

Moving forward, Tavai and the Patriots will be playing the Colts in Frankfurt, Germany, hoping to improve their displeasing record. Along with the challenge of a different time zone, Tavai and the Patriots’ defense will look to contain running back Jonathan Taylor. If the Patriots can contain Taylor, that will be a good sign for them in a game between two similar teams.

Make sure to check out for your local sports updates! - WD

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