Rookie Malcolm Rodriguez has earned a big role in the Lions’ linebacking corps, and being a Week 1 starter is merely cosmetic.
If he weren’t a rookie, Malcolm Rodriguez would probably have been listed as a starter on the Lions initial depth chart earlier this week. Being a sixth-round pick who has had to earn his way wasn’t particularly helpful. But no less an authority than linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard (as seen on “Hard Knocks”) challenged the rest of his pupils to keep Rodriguez from winning a starting job.
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn spoke to the media on Thursday. Via Kyle Meinke of MLive, Rodriguez was a natural topic. And Glenn played coy.
"Has he (won a starting job)?” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said, repeating the question that was posed to him before practice on Thursday. “He’s going to play, I can tell you that.”"
But will Rodriguez start Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles?
"He’s going to play a pretty big role,” Glenn said. “I will say this, and I’m not trying to be a butthole about it, but listen, Malcolm’s a good player. But the thing is we have other good players also, and all those guys deserve a chance to play.”"
It ultimately doesn’t matter if Malcolm Rodriguez is a Week 1 starter
Alex Anzalone, actual skills aside, will be one of the starting linebackers for the Lions and wear the green dot until further notice. Chris Board and Derrick Barnes are Rodriguez’s competition for the other starting spot, with Barnes emerging as a co-leader with Rodriguez to win the job.
The Lions need to have their best allocation of 11 defensive players on the field as much as possible, no matter what, with obvious regard to position. There will be two linebackers on the field more often than not, in a base nickel defense.
It can be easily argued Rodriguez is one of the team’s two best linebackers, leaving aside draft investment. The Lions have also not had a rookie drafted in the fifth round or later start Week 1 since Dennis Gibson in 1987. Per Meinke, that’s 101 qualifying players drafted since 1988.
Being named a starter and starting games is a nice accolade, but it’s ultimately pretty cosmetic. The number games Rodriguez starts as a rookie won’t matter all that much–his snap counts and production will matter far more.