20 Under 25 Rankings: #7 - Malcom Brown


20 Under 25 Rankings: #7 - Malcom Brown

TURNS 25: FEBRUARY 2, 2019

There’s upside galore for the Patriots' big defensive tackle. Malcom Brown doesn’t even turn 23 until February, so the team’s first-round pick in 2015 (32nd overall) has loads of time to grow into his NFL role. And he ought to, which is why this is a good spot for him on this list.

Brown hasn’t had a tremendously consistent 2016 -- he was supplanted in the defensive-line rotation in Week 16 by rookie Vincent Valentine -- but that figures to be temporary. There are too many occasions this year and last where you see Brown manhandle the guy across from him and make a play of consequence. The 6-2, 320-pounder has 46 tackles and three sacks this year. Just take a look at this tone-setter against the Ravens that put the Patriots up 2-0 in the first quarter.

Brown’s ability to be an interior speed rusher is impressive, but in the Patriots scheme there’s still a lot of two-gapping and blocker occupying that has to go on. It’s not an easy transition. The Patriots expect Brown to follow in the footsteps of players like Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour as a beast up front. It’s a reasonable bet.

With Jaguars defense looming, a reminder of Tom Brady's struggles in AFC Championships


With Jaguars defense looming, a reminder of Tom Brady's struggles in AFC Championships

Check out this terrible lede: The Patriots should hope Tom Brady’s good in the AFC Championship. 

It’s the ultimate “no duh” statement. The best team in the world would obviously want the best player in the world to play well in the biggest game of the season. 

But here’s the thing: Context makes that really stupid lede a little more sensible. After all, Tom Brady has only been okay in AFC Championships. He’s had some great performances and more than one terrible performance. But overall? Just okay for me, dog. 

We remember the doomed 2007 season for its regular-season scares against Baltimore and Philly and its eventual demise in the Super Bowl, but can you remember that season’s AFC title game? It was against the Chargers. It was close, as in a two-point game in the fourth quarter. Brady threw three picks. Without a big game from -- you guessed it -- Laurence Maroney, those undefeated Patriots might not have even made it to the Super Bowl. 

Of course, even the greatest player ever is allowed his occasional off performance. Yet in AFC Championships, it’s more than occasional with Brady. He threw multiple picks in each of the Patriots’ next two AFC Championships as part of a stretch of six consecutive conference title games that saw him throw more than one interception four times. The Pats went 2-2 in those four games. 

Of the three playoff rounds (and yes, I’m saying three; Tom Brady plays in Wild Card games just a little more often than he tears his ACL), the AFC Championship is by far his worst. Here’s his average per-game performance in each round, with Brady’s injury-shortened 2001 title game being taken out so as to not skew the numbers. 

Divisional round

61.36 completion percentage, 288 yards, 2.07 TD, .78 INT

Conference championship

61.13 completion percentage, 264 yards, 1.5 TD, 1.2 INT 

Super Bowl

66.69 completion percentage, 296 yards, 2.14 TD, .71 INT

With a big sample size -- 14 divisional-round games, 11 conference championships (10 of which are included here; again, we left out his quarter-and-a-half performance against Pittsburgh in 2001) and seven Super Bowls -- it’s jarring that Brady’s worst numbers in every category, from completion percentage to passing yards to touchdowns to interceptions, have come in the AFC Championship. 

Which brings us to . . . the AFC Championship and the Jaguars. Jacksonville finished the season second in points allowed, second in yards allowed, second in sacks and second in interceptions. For as annoying as all the “The only way to beat Tom Brady is ____,” questions may be, the Jaguars seemingly have the tools. 

Good news, though: The Jaguars defense just got absolutely torched in the divisional round by a Steelers team that played through narcolepsy. For as daunting as the Jags should be considered, the Steelers game provided a reminder that they are a team capable of allowing 40-plus to a good team. 

There’s a lot of interesting storylines surrounding Brady entering Sunday. We’ll be talking plenty about Brady’s hand (?) now, but there’s also the fact that last year’s AFC Championship was by far his best performance in a conference title game (384 yards, three touchdowns, no picks). 

Those kind of numbers might not stand out for the best player to ever play the sport. But for a guy who’s 7-4 in these games, he’s rarely found them to be particularly easy. 



WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers


WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics host the 76ers at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview:  Sweeping Sixers will depend on containing Joel Embiid

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]