Jalen Tabor boldly declared last month that he was the best player available in the draft. After 52 picks were made before the cornerback’s name was called, he wasn’t backing down from the boast.
“That’s just my confidence,” Tabor said.
The Detroit Lions selected their second-straight Florida Gator, taking Tabor in the second round with the No. 53 overall pick in the NFL draft on Friday night after selecting linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round.
“It’s going to be incredible,” Tabor said. “We were two of the hardest workers on Florida’s team.”
Detroit’s second-year general manager, Bob Quinn, dealt the team’s third-round pick, No. 85 overall, to his former employer, the New England Patriots, in exchange for their 96th and 124th overall picks.
The Lions took Northern Illinois wide receiver Kenny Golladay in the third round, giving assistant coach Robert Prince a possible third option behind veterans Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.
“Coach Prince definitely talked to me about it,” Golladay said.
The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Gollady started his college career at North Dakota, the only school that wanted him coming out of Chicago, but he transferred to Northern Illinois for his last two seasons. Gollady caught 18 touchdown passes and ran for three scores as a junior and senior.
“He’s a versatile player we think he can play outside and inside,” Quinn said.
The Lions desperately need a cornerback to play on the opposite side of standout Darius Slay and Tabor seems suited for the job and is eager to study Slay’s ways.
“I’m going to be connected to him like his phone clip,” Tabor said. “I’m just going to be on his hip everywhere he goes.”
Tabor was expected to be a first-round pick until his lackluster showing at the combine and Florida’s pro day. He ran a 4.62 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and was even slower — running in the 4.7s — inside the Gators’ practice facility.
“I knew it was going to affect me a little bit,” he acknowledged.
At Tabor’s draft party, some of his supporters were wearing white T-shirts with a message in black: “PRESS PLAY WATCH THE TAPE.”
“It’s just something my mom came up with,” he said. “She didn’t like everybody talking about my 40 time.”
The slow time in the 40 led to Quinn watching more film on Tabor than any other prospect in his scouting career.
“In the games I watched, I didn’t see him get run by,” Quinn said.
Tabor, who is from Washington, D.C., skipped his final year of college eligibility to enter the draft. He had 33 tackles, four interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — and a sack last season.
Detroit’s defense has been a priority so far in the draft after being largely overlooked in free agency. The franchise focused on offense, adding veteran linemen Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang to replace departing free agents Riley Reiff and Larry Warford early in the offseason.
The Lions addressed a need Thursday by using the No. 21 pick on Davis, who can play against the run or the pass, after releasing injury-prone linebacker DeAndre Levy.
They’re hoping Quinn can follow up his first draft with another successful series of picks this year. Quinn’s first four picks last year, starting with first-round offensive tackle Taylor Decker, all went on to play key roles during at least some stretches of last season.
Detroit struggled to make game-changing plays on defense last year and has been looking for playmakers on that side of the ball. Its search, clearly, included a couple of former Gators.
“We want to get as many playmakers as we can,” Quinn said.
Detroit will go into the third and final day of the draft with two selections in the fourth round, one in the fifth, a pair of picks in the sixth and one in the seventh and final round.