What makes Rodriguez a top college linebacker?
STILLWATER — In his smoothly sarcastic way, Oklahoma State safety Kolby Harvell-Peel openly wished that teammate Malcolm Rodriguez would miss a few of the tackles the linebacker regularly makes.
“I play on the same side as him,” Harvell-Peel said of Rodriguez. “He grabs everything. Selfishly, I want to make a couple more plays, but he’s just grabbing everybody. Everybody that runs through gaps.
“He just makes my job so much easier, and he’s been doing it for a while. He’s tough as hell. I really appreciate Malcolm. He’s a great player. I don’t know why he’s so great, but he is.”
So Harvell-Peel brings up the question: What makes Rodriguez so good?
The 5-foot-11, 235-pound, fifth-year senior linebacker is third nationally and tops in the Big 12 with 10.8 tackles per game. His 54 total stops are 25 more than his next-best teammate, linebacker Devin Harper with 29. He’s tied for the Cowboy lead with five tackles for
loss and seven quarterback hurries.
He caused a fumble that led to a touchdown in the 21-20 win over Boise State, and he recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the 31-20 win over Kansas State. In the season opener against Missouri State, he set a career high with 15 tackles.
With the No. 12 Cowboys preparing for a road test against Texas at 11 a.m. Saturday in Austin, Rodriguez is at center stage — the Big 12’s best tackler opposite the conference’s best running back, Texas’ Bijan Robinson, who enters the game averaging 132.3 yards per game.
Rodriguez came to Oklahoma State as a safety in 2017, and was pulled out of redshirt after four games to help with special teams. He finished with 11 tackles, and stepped into a starting safety role in 2018.
Prior to the 2019 season, with the Cowboys depleted at linebacker, Rodriguez moved from safety, and was an immediate success, despite being undersized. He led the team with 103 tackles in 13 games.
Last year, he finished with 82 stops in 11 games. Just before the bowl game, he announced that he would return for his super-senior season, the extra year afforded to players by the NCAA because of the pandemic.
Rodriguez says he’s seeing the field better this year, which allows him to be more patient in attacking ball carriers.
His wrestling background is welldocumented in terms of his understanding of leverage and using that knowledge to get players to the ground.
He’s typically not flashy, nor does he celebrate with attention-seeking flair after tackles.
He just makes plays.
If he continues on his current pace, and the Cowboy defense keeps shutting offenses down, Rodriguez is sure to be in line for some conference and national recognition at season’s end.
When asked if there’s one quality that makes Rodriguez extraordinary, OSU coach Mike Gundy named five — hammering home the point that there isn’t an individual skill that stands out in Rodriguez’s game.
“He takes good angles and he runs well,” Gundy said. “He’s very savvy, so he can see things. He’s been here for a long time. He sees plays developing.
“And then because of wrestling, he’s a really good tackler.”
There’s no simple answer to what makes Rodriguez such a talented player.
“I don’t know what makes Malcolm so great,” Harvell-Peel said. “It might just be his intangibles. He’s smart — I know that’s a big part of it. He’s smart. He’s a great tackler.”
Maybe the latter is the best answer to the question. When Rodriguez gets his hands on players, rarely do they escape.
“He knows how to tackle,” Harper said. “He can do everything. He knows how to be around the ball. Just a great player overall.”