Detroit Lions rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez continues to turn heads at training camp. The star of the latest Hard Knocks episode, Rodriguez’s meteoric rise to the top of the Lions’ depth chart is being well documented in front of a national audience. Rodriguez earned first-team reps with the starting defense during Wednesday’s joint practice with the Indianapolis Colts, according to reports from those in attendance. The No. 188 overall selection in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Rodriguez is already carrying the appearance of a day-three steal.
Wednesday’s development marked the first time Rodriguez earned first-team reps alongside presumed starter Alex Anzalone. Rodriguez began practicing with the third-team defense at the beginning of camp, which is to be expected of a day-three rookie. He gradually earned a look with the second-string defense before now receiving first-team reps. It showcases a steady climb, proving that Rodriguez is deserving of every ounce of praise that’s currently coming his way from linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard.
The Lions entered the 2022 NFL Draft with a clear need at linebacker after failing to receive even league-average play from the position last season. They were routinely tied to the likes of Devin Lloyd, Nakobe Dean, and Quay Walker throughout the process and linebacker overall was a popular target for Detroit’s No. 32 overall selection—a pick they acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford trade. Lions general manager Brad Holmes instead shocked the nation by trading up 20 selections in order to draft wide receiver Jameson Williams. It was a wise move given Williams‘ elite ability, but the hole at linebacker remained.
The Lions surprisingly didn’t address the need at linebacker until the Rodriguez selection in the sixth round. Luckily for Holmes and his coaching staff, Rodriguez is already showcasing a pro-ready mentality that may legitimately lead him to a starting role. Rodriguez has been putting forth the same traits that made him worthy of a day-three gamble.
His competitive toughness and diagnosing skills popped on tape. He also turned heads by running a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. A four-year playmaker that started more than 40 games, Rodriguez arrived at the Lions’ headquarters as an experienced, well-developed linebacker. Rodriguez possesses sideline-to-sideline ability, adding a much-needed layer of athleticism to the first level of Detroit’s defense. It’s the type of athleticism Detroit craves from the position.
Rodriguez wouldn’t be afforded such opportunities if the veterans above him weren’t struggling. Second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes has experienced an inconsistent camp after earning a dreadful overall rating of 30.1 from Pro Football Focus as a rookie a year ago. The Lions surprisingly re-acquired Jarrad Davis in the offseason. It was a head-scratching decision given that Davis previously failed to live up to expectations as the Lions’ first-round selection in 2017. Davis spent last season with the New York Jets, but he’s back to his disappointing ways in Detroit. Rodriguez has easily outperformed both Barnes and Davis this summer.
Holmes’ Lions remain a franchise in transition following last year’s disappointing three-win campaign. Developing young, ascending talents is precisely what the Lions need in order to elevate their outlook moving forward. Rodriguez has quickly showcased himself to be one of Detroit’s most intriguing young playmakers. A three-down starring role is within reach for Rodriguez in 2022.