Lions draft linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez in sixth round

The Lions added another piece to the defense by selected linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez in the sixth round (188th overall) on Saturday.

Rodriguez, who played at Oklahoma State, earned All-Big 12 honors in three straight seasons and made the first team in his final year. As the team captain was the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP with 11 tackles, an interception, and two pass breakups in the win over Notre Dame.

Rodriguez, who is 5-foot-11 and 232 pounds, finished his career with the Cowboys by garnering All-Big 12 honors in three straight seasons, making the first team in his final year. He ranked seventh in the FBS with 76 solo tackles (129 total tackles, 15 for loss with three sacks) in 2021 and tied for 10th nationally with four forced fumbles in 14 starts. The team captain was also the Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP with 11 tackles, an interception, and two pass breakups in the win over Notre Dame. 

In 2020, he led his team with 82 tackles (including 57 solos, tying for seventh-most in the FBS), seven for loss with three sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 11 starts.

In high school, Rodriguez led Wagoner to three straight Oklahoma state titles at quarterback, while also being named the state Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and winning a state championship in wrestling. 

His draft profile reads: “Rodriguez carries a compact, sawed-off frame that is muscular but stubby. His transition from read to flow is seamless, with some of the cleanest GPS to the football in this draft. He’s straight-line fast but lacks the looseness for sudden lateral bursts, which could limit his range as an NFL tackler. He can play on third downs but is very average in that department. Rodriguez has been a career gap-hog, finding and finishing runners who come his way.’’

Lions draft TE James Mitchell in fifth round

The Lions drafted tight end James Mitchell (Virginia Tech) in the fifth round (177th overall) on Saturday.

He is the second Lions draft pick who is recovering from ACL surgery after injuring his knee in the second game of the 2021 season

“I’m pretty much back. I’m doing everything – I’m running, cutting, running routes, I’m expecting to be fully cleared by June at the latest,’’ Mitchell said. “I’ll be ready to go at training camp. I’m excited.’’

He said he talked with the Lions at the Combine and besides that they had talked with my agent about maybe getting something done after the draft if he wasn’t selected. 

“So when they called me right there towards the end of round five and said they were going to take me I was pretty shocked but very grateful and excited to go there and get started,’’ said Mitchell who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds.

He said at Virginia Tech he was used all over the field.

“I became a better blocker as the years went on. I pride myself on playing all over the field, I’m happy to continue to go and learn behind a guy like T.J. Hockenson and soak it all in,’’ Mitchell said in a conference call with reporters.

Mitchell played in just the first two games of the 2021 season. In 2019 (21-361-17.2, two TDs in 13 games, eight starts) and then led the team with four receiving touchdowns in 2020 (26-435-16.7 in 10 games, nine starts)

The draft preview said: Mitchell has the foot agility and athleticism to separate on a regular basis if he can tighten up his route running and play closer to his top speed. He’s capable of attacking the seams and is talented with the ball in his hands when he has run-after-catch opportunities. As a run blocker, Mitchell puts in adequate effort but his man ends up near the action or making a play on too many snaps. He has the size to play in-line but might be best suited in a role as a pass-catching H-back.’’

Lions draft Illinois safety Kerby Joseph in third round

The Lions wrapped up the second day of the NFL draft by selecting safety Kerby Joseph out of Illinois in the third round (97th overall).

“When I got the phone call it’s like my eyes blew up in my head. It was just like this is finally happening, this is what I’ve been dreaming about, this is what I’ve been seeing on TV since I was kid,’’ Joseph said on a media call on Friday night. 

He said he met the Lions at the Senior Bowl and then again at the NFL Combine where he had a formal interview. He met with them again on a visit.

He had more of a reserve role in his first three years at Illinois when he worked as a receiver and safety. He also played on special teams all four seasons.

“I started off on special teams which is why I fell in love with it,’’ said Joseph who is 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds.

He was speaking in the garage to get some quiet with about 60 people at a draft party in his honor outside of Orlando. 

He had a breakout year in 2021 garnering second-team All-Big Ten honors by tying for fourth in the FBS with five interceptions and posting three fumble recoveries (along with 57 tackles, one sack in 12 games, 10 starts).

Three of Detroit’s first four draft picks have been on the defensive side of the ball.

His draft profile calls him a free safety with average size and speed, good athleticism and only one season as a full-time starter for the Illini. He worked for all five of his interceptions last season, using both his length and range over the top. He lacks prototypical instincts as a single-high safety but that might be due to a lack of experience. He’s fluid in space but needs to play with better anticipation.

Earlier on Friday in the second round the Lions drafted defensive end Josh Paschal (Kentucky). In the first round on Thursday they selected defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (2nd overall) and wide receiver Jameson Williams (12th overall) in the first round.

The Lions have three picks on Saturday – one in the fifth round (177 overall) and two in the sixth round (181st and 217th). The draft starts at noon.