It's unlikely that the New England Patriots entered the 2015 NFL Draft expecting to select a defensive tackle in the first round. In fact, the Patriots weren't supposed to be drafting a player at the bottom of the first round at all.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown was a well-regarded prospect expected to go in the top 20 of the opening round. If he fell beyond that point, there was no way he'd pass the Lions, who had just lost defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to free agency, at 23rd overall. And if he passed the Lions, there was a zero-percent chance he would last beyond the Colts pick at 29th overall.
After the Cowboys selected cornerback Byron Jones at 27th overall, reports surfaced that the Patriots were going to trade out of the first round. But then the Lions, who had traded down to 28th overall, picked offensive guard Laken Tomlinson instead of Brown. The Patriots paused and the Colts were on the clock.
Indianapolis picked wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and the Patriots yanked their trade from the Texans and waited to see if Brown would fall to #32.
The rest is history.
1st round, 32nd overall, DT Malcom Brown: Brown led all defensive tackles on the Patriots with 46.5% of defensive snaps, ahead of veteran Alan Branch (39.6%). Brown was actually clocking in at roughly 60% of the defensive snaps down the stretch of the season and he took a commanding lead of the position.
Brown functioned in a rotation with veteran Alan Branch, oft-injured Dominique Easley, mid-season acquisition Akiem Hicks, and depth option Sealver Siliga. With Hicks a free agent, Siliga a restricted free agent, and Branch with a team-option in his contract, the Patriots could shake-up the positional grouping next season.
Ideally, the Patriots would seem to want Brown, Easley, and then Hicks or Branch to play roughly 50% of the snaps, with a fourth depth tackle adding in 20% of snaps in a situational capacity. Brown is a cornerstone for this Patriots defensive rotation.
Brown quietly improved as the season wore on and ended up starting 12 regular season games down the stretch and both games in the playoffs. He notched 54 tackles and 3 sacks, along with two fumble recoveries over his 18 games this season.
Not only should Brown be considered a roster lock in 2016, but look for him to take a major jump forward in his second season in the league and earn more universal recognition for his potential (he just turned 22 in February!) and his ability.