When talking to some reporters who covered Detroit Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez at Oklahoma State, they would invariably mention the long-running joke about his wrestling background. Much like the Matthew Stafford/Clayton Kershaw connection, it would be mentioned on just about every television broadcast to the point of obnoxiousness.
But when you really look at the way Rodriguez plays, it’s impossible not to see the wrestling influence on his game. And there was an astonishing moment from his rookie debut against the Philadelphia Eagles that perfectly illustrates that point.
Early in the second quarter, the Eagles faced a second-and-goal from the Lions’ 5-yard line. Philly running back Miles Sanders took the ball to his left—right towards the gap Rodriguez was supposed to occupy. The problem for the rookie linebacker is that four-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce got a free release to the second level and was barrelling towards him.
But here’s what happened:
Rodrigo!!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 12, 2022
...not sure I've ever seen someone slam/hip toss Kelce like this and this dude hits EVERYTHING square, beautiful! pic.twitter.com/yo4VhHh5Qy
That’s “undersized” 5-foot-11, 230-pound Malcolm Rodriguez rag-dolling 6-foot-3, 295-pound Jason Kelce.
Now, the hip toss didn’t really matter in the context of this play, and is really more eye candy than anything else. However, there are two important points to make here. One, this showcases Rodriguez’s ability to shed blocks, even when outsized and heavily engaged—some would say being held. HIs understanding of leverage and, yes, his wrestling background give him an added edge.
However, more importantly, Rodriguez does his job on this play. He initially takes on Kelce’s block and drives him backwards, forcing the running back to bounce his route outside. (Side note: Good job by Anzalone filling that gap, as well).
Kelce does an amazing job re-anchoring, but by then Sanders has chosen to go further outside, where Austin Bryant cleans up the play.
But just for fun, here’s another angle of that Rodriguez hip toss:
@malcolmlrod first hip toss in the NFL. And won’t be the last! pic.twitter.com/IJgufVdFuT— Chris Biggerstaff (@cbiggs424) September 11, 2022
This rookie is already so fun to watch.