The Detroit Lions are counting on first-round pick Jarrad Davis to make an instant impact this fall.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said before the start of rookie minicamp Friday that Davis is well equipped to help a defense that allowed the highest completion percentage against in NFL history last year.
"We expect him to be a factor for us," Caldwell said. "Smart guy. He’s got ability, can run, hit, etc. So I think he’ll help us quickly."
Davis made his Lions practice debut Friday as he joined eight other draft picks plus assorted first-year players, undrafted rookies and tryout guys on the field at rookie minicamp.
The Lions had one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL last year, and Davis, the 21st pick of the draft out of Florida, is expected to slide in and start at middle linebacker as a rookie.
"It’s like anything else," Caldwell said. "You try to put them in the best spot possible that you think where they can fit. But nowadays, the way in which you have so much nickel in the ballgame, those guys are really flexible in terms of the position that they play.”
Davis' arrival means last year's starting middle linebacker, Tahir Whitehead, will play outside linebacker this fall.
Whitehead is expected to vie for playing time in nickel packages with free-agent addition Paul Worrilow and rookie fourth-round pick Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Caldwell declined to specify where Whitehead fits on the depth chart.
Whitehead led the Lions with a career-high 132 tackles in 15 games last year, and has experience playing all three linebacker positions.
"We’re not talking about depth charts or anything of that nature, who’s going to line up where and all that kind of stuff at this point until we get them all together," Caldwell said. "We’ve got a lot of time yet. We’ll see what’s happening, but I would anticipate that he’s going to be a factor just like he has been for every other year since we’ve been here at least."
Davis, who started his final two college seasons at middle linebacker, was one of eight draft picks to sign his rookie contract Friday, ensuring he won't miss any time for contractual reasons.
Under the NFL's slotted draft system, Davis' contract is worth about $10.5 million and includes a team option for the fifth year.
Last year's No. 21 pick, receiver Will Fuller of the Houston Texans, had all but a portion of his fourth-year salary fully guaranteed at the time of signing.
Along with Davis, the Lions signed every member of their 2017 draft class except third-rounder Kenny Golladay.
Last year, they signed nine of their 10 draft picks before the start of rookie minicamp, and finalized a deal with second-round pick A'Shawn Robinson days later.
Golladay is taking part in rookie minicamp.
The Lions also signed 14 undrafted free agents.
"When you can get them out there and get them started right on time, it’s always good," Caldwell said. "There’s a couple different ways that can happen for you, but it worked well for us. There’s no delay there just in terms of a guy that’s missing for a day or two or longer, so that helps us."