1. LB Alex Anzalone
Rookie Who Could Take His Job: Malcolm Rodriguez
The Lions coaching staff likes Anzalone, and he came back on a cheap one-year deal in free agency. He did set a career-high with 78 total tackles in 14 games last season, along with seven pass breakups. But he was also “credited” with 15 missed tackles (16.1 percent missed tackle rate), and Pro Football Focus graded him very poorly.
Anzalone dodged an easy threat to his role when the Lions didn’t take a linebacker on the first two days of the draft. But then they took Rodriguez, out of Oklahoma State, in the fifth round.
Rodriguez is undersized at 5-foot-11, but that’s about the only notable hole in his resume. He topped 100 total tackles in two of his last three seasons in college, as he transitioned from safety to linebacker for the last three of his five total seasons in Stillwater.
In 2021 Rodriguez earned All-American honors from multiple outlets, as he posted a Big 12-leading 129 total tackles with 16 tackles for loss, three sacks, four forced fumbles, four pass breakups and an interception. As a former high school quarterback, he’s got athleticism in spades.
Via Mike O’Hara of the Lions’ website, Rodriguez has the right perspective coming out of rookie minicamp.
"Special teams are big here,” Rodriguez said. “I want to get started on special teams and work my way up into the linebacker room.”"
No one should be promised much of anything in the Lions’ linebacking corps. The only good reason Anzalone will start is to wear the green dot on his helmet to relay defensive calls on the field, and the absence of any other obvious candidate to do that. Rodriguez can surely learn the defense quickly, and based on pure talent he’s better than Anzalone.
If the opportunity to wrestle the starting job from Anzalone is given (a nod to Rodriguez’s high school wrestling background), the rookie out of Oklahoma State could very well get it done.