Despite being a sixth-round pick, Lions rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez may legitimately push to win a starting job right away.
If not for being undersized (5-foot-11), Malcolm Rodriguez may have been drafted far sooner than 188th overall (sixth round) in April’s draft. But the Detroit Lions gladly took the former Oklahoma State Cowboy, who was one of the most productive linebackers in the country in 2021.
The Lions bolstered their linebacker depth this offseason, not that it took much to qualify as an upgrade to the talent level from last season’s group. Quite frankly, no one should be promised a role or a starting job as offseason work ramps up.
The idea Rodriguez could push for significant playing time right away is not necessarily fresh. But Chad Reuter of NFL.com put the Lions’ rookie linebacker on his list of Day 3 draft picks who could compete for starter snaps in Year 1, ranking Rodriguez No. 11 out of 12 on the list.
Rodriguez’s size (5-foot-11, 232 pounds) has caused him to be overlooked his entire football career. The Lions have veterans Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis (a former first-round pick by Detroit brought back after one year with the Jets), but neither were stars last season. Second-year player Derrick Barnes came on a bit at the end of 2021, but I won’t ignore the productive, athletic and instinctive Rodriguez’s chances at making his presence felt between the tackles as a rookie.
Lions’ linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard praises Malcolm Rodriguez
At this point, Rodriguez has only participated in rookie minicamp and a couple days of voluntary OTAs. But that didn’t stop Lions’ linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard from heaping praise on one of his new pupils.
Sheppard was a guest on the new podcast from Lions’ website writer Tim Twentyman, and he wasted no words to praise Rodriguez.
Malcolm Rodriguez is one of the smarter young players I’ve ever been around,” “That kid, it’s because he’s a naturally smart player, but on top of that, it’s the work he puts in. This kid came in here in two days and he knew both (linebacker) spots.”
Rodriguez has garnered high marks for his football IQ and athleticism, which will help him overcome a lack of size. He has said he knows he’ll have to earn his spot initially on special teams, so he’s got the right mindset.
But it’s easy to think projected inside linebacker starters Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes (particularly Anzalone) are on notice, as the rookie sixth-round pick pushes for a prominent role in the Lions’ defense right away.
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