New England Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown doesn’t play the sort of role where his value is easily determined, which makes an upcoming decision on his fifth-year option incredibly intriguing.
The 6-foot-2, 319-pounder is a space eater who plugs gap, frees linebackers and (maybe) occasionally provides an interior push to drive the pocket back and make quarterbacks uncomfortable. It means he’s unlikely to put up gaudy, eye-catching numbers, as evidenced by his 7.5 career sacks.
As a plugger, he’s also not an every-down player, making evaluating his literal worth that much more difficult. Film analysis on a play-by-play basis is the best way of grading players like Brown’s performances, but those are still imperfect measurements because the Pro Football Focus’ of the world aren’t privy to knowledge of the playcall.
They also can’t account for the subtleties of individual position coaching and the gameplan. If Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly has him widening out a fraction because they saw something on film that indicated they could get a center or guard to reach and expose a gap for a blitzing linebacker and it doesn’t work, that might work against Brown’s grade because it isn’t consistent with what they’d normally have him do.
That’s not a knock on PFF, it’s simply a reality of evaluating talent in a game where there’s too much variable to ever truly account for. The only people who can truly know how important Brown is to the Patriots scheme is the coaching staff and front office, which makes his fifth-year option decision our first real chance to see what they think of him.
Bill Belichick doesn’t traditionally keep people around out of a sense of obligation, even if Brown is a former first-round pick. So the fact that he’s still with the organization and has had a steady role on the defensive line is a clear indicator that he’s doing something right.
However, Belichick and his front office are also extremely cap conscious. Even if they like Brown within their system, they won’t give him in excess of $7 million to play less than half of the defensive snaps if they don’t think he’s worth it.
PFF gives Brown an above average 80.6 grade in 2017 and ranks him 39th in the NFL among qualifying interior defenders. That’s a pretty solid season for a player who is still just 23 years old, but, again, the Patriots are the only ones who really know and we’ll get our best idea of his value this offseason.