The New England Patriots currently have 86 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s defensive tackles.
Name: Malcom Brown
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 90
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’2, 320 lbs.
2017 review: While he will not be confused with the NFL’s elite interior penetrators like Aaron Donald or Gerald McCoy, Malcom Brown still does a good job for the Patriots – and 2017 was no different from the first two years of his career: the former first-round draft selection continued to be one of the league’s best run stoppers and a reliable and productive presence along New England’s defensive line.
Brown appeared in 13 of the Patriots’ 16 regular season games last year and despite missing three contests because of an ankle injury still played 50.7% of New England’s defensive snaps (537 of 1,060) – second among the team’s defensive tackles behind only Lawrence Guy. During the playoffs, Brown’s playing time percentage increased to 69.0% (149 of 216) as he was on the field in all three of New England’s games.
Throughout the season, the Texas product was primarily used as an early-down defender. This played to his strengths when it came to stuffing the run – and Brown did that very well last year. Showing tremendous discipline and vision as a two-gap interior defensive tackle, he finished the regular season with the fourth-best run-stop percentage among the NFL’s 4-3 defensive tackles (via Pro Football Focus).
All in all, Brown registered seven stuffed runs and 42 tackles versus the rush, and also consistently created space against double teams and one-on-one blocks for the second-level defenders to attack. But while he was his usual productive self against the run, Brown only saw irregular playing time versus the pass and finished the season with 2.5 sacks as well as four quarterback hits and six hurries.
While the numbers per se are not bad considering his primary usage as a run stopper, they show that the 32nd overall pick of the 2015 draft is still a rather one-dimensional defender – and one the Patriots do not yet feel comfortable using more in the passing game. Consequently, Brown’s third year in the NFL can be seen as follows: it was a successful overall campaign for him, but one that did not see him grow a lot further as a defensive tackle.
2018 preview: Given his usage as a primary early-down defender over the past three years, it was not that big of a surprise to see the Patriots not pick up the fifth-year option of Brown’s rookie deal. 2018 will therefore be a contract year for the defensive tackle, who will try to prove his value to New England and the rest of the league. The success of this venture will largely depend on his contributions in the passing game.
It could certainly be possible that Brown is given more playing time against the pass or in specific longer-distance situations, but with players like Adam Butler, Trey Flowers and Derek Rivers all options to rush the passer from the interior, Brown will likely again be primarily used against the run. That being said, he will likely remain one of the league’s better run stuffers – even if this hurts his outlook heading towards free agency.
Brown’s 2018 campaign should therefore be expected to look very much like his last two seasons. If healthy, he will once again appear in every one of the Patriots’ 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.