The New England Patriots are in the middle of their 2017 training camp, which has started in late July. Over the remainder of camp, the 90 players currently under contract with the team are now in the process of fighting for spots on either the 53-man roster or the 10-man practice squad.
As we have done throughout the offseason, we will continue to take a look at the men fighting for those few select spots on the 2017 Patriots – and to find out who will and might be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with the Patriots' last first round draft pick.
Name: Malcom Brown
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 90
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6'2, 320 lbs.
2016 review: Coming off a solid rookie season, former first round draft pick Malcom Brown was a premier candidate to make the famed second-year jump in 2016. The Texas product did just that and further established himself as one of the most consistent young interior defenders in the NFL while forming one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league together with veteran Alan Branch.
Brown appeared in all 16 of the Patriots' 2016 regular season games and played 597 of a possible 1,044 defensive snaps – 57.2% and the second most on the team behind only Branch. While New England opted to use him as a rather one-dimensional early-down defender, Brown's usage played to his strengths as a highly efficient and productive run defender.
The final selection of 2015's first draft round displayed improved awareness, footwork and gap discipline throughout his second year in the league. Consequently, he was able to improve his ability to play against the run and finished third in the NFL in run-stop percentage according to Pro Football Focus. Furthermore, Brown was also able to provide a steady presence against the pass.
While he will never be confused with interior pass rushers like Aaron Donald or Leonard Williams, Brown recorded three regular season sacks, four quarterback hits and 13 hurries and ranked sixth on the team with 20 total pressures. Add 50 tackles and a safety and you have yourself a rather impressive second campaign in the league – one that did not end with the regular season.
Brown continued his strong play throughout New England's postseason run. Playing 60.4% of the team's defensive snaps (113 of 187), he registered 11 tackles, a sack and three hurries and was an integral part of a defensive line that allowed only 86.3 yards per game during the playoffs. Brown was thus able to help the team earn its fifth Super Bowl win – the first with him in the lineup.
His 2016 season does not end with his defensive contributions, however. Brown also was a regular on special teams: As a defensive tackle on field goal attempts, he played 65 of 449 snaps during the regular season (14.5%) and added 16 of 93 (17.2%) during the playoffs. All in all, Brown had a very productive second season in the NFL and was able to further show why New England was lucky he fell to them on draft day.
2017 preview: Entering his third season in the league, Malcom Brown is a lock to make the Patriots' 53-man roster. Not only is he already a very good defensive tackle, he also is exceptionally young for his experience – he will not turn 24 until Super Bowl week – and a cheap option at defensive tackle. His $2.1 million salary cap hit is only the 21st highest on the team; a relative bargain for a player of his caliber.
Brown's 2017 campaign is therefore projected to very much look like his 2016 campaign: If healthy, he will once again appear in every one of New England's games and play around 60.0% of defensive snaps while also being employed as a part-time special teamer. This role and usage has suited him well in the past and it would be a surprise if the Patriots' coaching staff altered it in a substantial way.
And while it could be possible that Brown is given more playing time against the pass or in specific longer-distance situations, the rise of Trey Flowers and offseason acquisition of Lawrence Guy lead to the belief that his role will not change too much: Brown will primarily be used against the run. And it would not be a surprise to see him improve even further and grow into a potential long-term anchor at the heart of the defense.