Thanks to their winning record in 2022 and their starring appearances on the HBO show ‘Hard Knocks,’ among other reasons, the Detroit Lions have suddenly become a future contender and a free agent destination for the foreseeable future.
The Lions turnaround happened in large part because of their perseverance, led by Head Coach Dan Campbell, running back Jamaal Williams and others, but early in the season, all eyes were on a pair of rookies: Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez.
Hutchinson and Rodriguez were the stars of ‘Hard Knocks,’ who later became stars in their own right on the football field thanks to their stellar play as rookies.
While Hutchinson’s praises have been roundly sung, across the league thanks to his 9.5 sacks on the season and three interceptions, Rodriguez has taken a bit of a back seat, and continued to fly under the radar.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboys star wouldn’t change things for the world, however.
He released a thank you message to Detroit Lions fans on his Instagram account in the past five days that shows the respect and admiration he has for Detroit Lions fans so early into his career.
View this post on Instagram
Rodriguez isn’t in the running for Rookie of the Year, but much like Hutchinson and fellow rookie defender James Houston, he has the statistics to back up his budding stardom.
In 2022, Rodriguez led all rookies in tackles for loss, according to the website Woodward Sports Network.
Rodriguez had 87 total tackles on the season, behind team leader Alex Anzalone, who had 125, in good company with some big-time NFL names like Jalen Ramsey, Jaylon Smith, Harrison Smith and former University of Michigan star linebacker Devin Bush.
Rodriguez, a former two-time state wrestling champion, played much bigger than his size, and his sixth-round draft position, on the football field with Detroit.
Lions rookie LB Malcolm Rodriguez tossed Jason Kelce like it was nothing ? pic.twitter.com/hqynTkbusP
— Footballism (@FootbaIIism) September 15, 2022
Related Reading: Former Michigan Linebacker Devin Bush Hints He May Be Interested in Playing for Dan Campbell and the Lions in 2023
Now that Rodriguez is a household name around the Metro Detroit area, and popular nationwide due to his Sunday Night Football intro against the Green Bay Packers in one of the most widely viewed games of the year (see below), the challenge is to build on his success.
“Barry Sanders University” has a nice ring to it. pic.twitter.com/1WSLp2kTtC
— OkStProbs ?☠️ (@OKSTProbs) January 9, 2023
Perhaps more importantly, Rodriguez’s young teammates Hutchinson, Houston, Anzalone, and former Illinois safety and third round draft pick Kerby Joseph have all shown star potential in their early time with the team.
With the NFL’s fifth-highest scoring offense by points (third ranked in total yards) returning, Rodriguez and the Lions have a real chance to build on last year’s success, starting with the 2023 offseason.
For now, Lions fans are enjoying the most competitive, and exciting, team they’ve had in years, and the improving young defense is a big part of it.