Malcolm Rodriguez has officially started his rookie season in the NFL.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions, the Oklahoma State linebacker is expected to come in and make an impact.
Speaking on the ‘Woodward Heavyweights’ show, Rodriguez shared his thoughts on starting his career with the Lions.
“It’s definitely surreal,” Rodriguez said. “When I got up there, training a bit, OTAs and stuff, it kinda hit me. But until I hit that first preseason game, I feel like it’s gonna punch me in the face and be like, ‘Yeah, you’re here now.’ It’s going to be a bit of a shock, but I’ve kinda left it inside me so far.
Coming out of Wagoner High School in Wagoner, Oklahoma, he had the option of playing football or basketball. After choosing football and heading to Oklahoma State, he soon realized that playing professionally was becoming a reality.
“After college, my draft stock and all that came back, so I was like, ‘Let’s go all the way,'” Rodriguez said. “I kind of put everything into it, it’s going to pay off, so I’ve had my tail a bit broken since I was six and started playing. It’s just one of those things that I ‘m lucky to have come this far.
While at Wagoner, Rodriguez won a state wrestling championship. Although undersized as a linebacker at 5-foot-11, he developed a physique on the wrestling mat that carried over to the gridiron.
The linebacker explained that while many see being undersized as a disadvantage, there are benefits to having shorter arms and a compact stature.
“It’s just one of those things where it was about height, which is why I fell so far (in the draft),” Rodriguez said. “The waist and the arms. I’ve always used that to my advantage, being a wrestler, and having different angles and different ways of attacking people. Different ways to attack people and linemen, obviously with short, compact arms. Hit them or defeat them with speed.
“It’s one of those things where I kinda put it in the back of my mind and go out there and try to be around the ball with my instincts and everything.”
That ability to move quickly and attack will fit well with what Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn hopes to do with his new defensive scheme.
“(The new program) reminds me a lot of what we did at OSU,” Rodriguez said. “We were putting the guys in the gaps and we each had a gap. The defensive line in front of us, they’re in a gap and take that gap, otherwise, the linebackers are shooting through. He makes it very simple with run keys and pass keys, and we’re going to play real fast like I did at OSU. It will be a fun system, especially for my freshman year.
Rodriguez will play for head coach Dan Campbell, who is entering his second season in charge of the Lions. Known for his banter, passion and energy, Campbell has become a popular figure in NFL circles.
The rookie linebacker shared his first impressions of the head coach during the interview.
“For me, it was like, man, this guy is down to earth,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been there before and he’s a grinder. You can tell he’s been through the ups and downs of his career and he sure likes those guys who are a bit tough. He wants to go out and work, and you get that vibe from him. He doesn’t care if you’re first round, seventh round or undrafted and he just wants players who are going to get out there, have fun with the sport and play ball.
Rodriguez joins a roster of players traveling to Detroit via Oklahoma State, the same trip made by Barry Sanders, who many consider the best Lions player of all time.
The rookie said he has met Sanders several times at Oklahoma State games and plans to contact the legend regarding where to go in Detroit. He joked that he thought he could knock out the former running back if they met one-on-one.
“Now I’m like, I’m a little taller than this guy,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “I saw this guy’s highlight tape, he’s still got a bit of a jolt in there. I’m like, I don’t know if I want all that. But no, he’s a down to earth guy -down to earth and very humble.
As Rodriguez walks into the linebacker room, he’ll consult with veterans in the group to get a feel for NFL ranks. Among those available at Detroit is Alex Anzalone, a 27-year-old entering his sixth professional season.
“It just gives his perspective on who he’s been, what his experiences are,” Rodriguez said. “I met him the first day, actually, when he came back from Florida. Only the rookies were there and he ended up coming in and so I got to talk to him, meet his wife and kids, so it was pretty cool. He’s one of those guys that if I ever needed anything like help with a playbook or stuff outside of football, he was always there.
LEISURE OUTSIDE OF FOOTBALL
As the rookie prepares for life in the NFL, he has started working on hobbies outside the white lines of the football field.
More recently, he’s been playing video games like “MLB The Show.” He told the hosts that he might start streaming on Twitch in the future.
With his entry into the NFL, Rodriguez will be in the new edition of the popular video game “Madden”. He said he hoped his player rating would hit at least the 70s. He said he believed his quickness was worthy of a high rating.
“I have to make myself at least 80,” Rodriguez said.
This article was produced by the staff of Sports Illustrated/All Lions. To learn more, visit si.com/nfl/lions.