Malcom Brown

Report: Patriots trade for DT Danny Shelton from Browns

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Report: Patriots trade for DT Danny Shelton from Browns

The Patriots will acquire defensive tackle Danny Shelton in a trade with the Cleveland Browns for a conditional draft pick, according to ESPN's Field Yates.

The trade can't be officially announced until Wednesday. It's the fourth trade the Browns have made since Friday. They've acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills, wide receiver Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins and cornerback Damarius Randall from the Green Bay Packers. 

Shelton, 24, was the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Washington. The 6-2, 335-pound defensive tackle has 71 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 46 career games (45 starts).

On the defensive line, the Patriots have Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Vincent Valentine, who was on injured reserve all of last season. They did not pick up the option on Alan Branch and on Friday Ricky Jean Francois said he wouldn't be back in New England next season.

Shelton was the top DT prospect in the draft in 2015. The Patriots needed a big body to play with Brown and Guy on the interior. Those two saw a lot of work late in the season with Branch out of the rotation.

Shelton will make $2.03 million this season. As a first-rounder entering his fourth season, the Patriots have until early May to exercise the fifth Year option on him.

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Branch's uncertainty may lead to another big body up front

Branch's uncertainty may lead to another big body up front

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are always on the lookout for power and athleticism: interior defensive line. 

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HOW THEY PERFORMED


Depends on who you were watching. Malcom Brown may never live up to the impossible expectations some set for him as the team's first-round 320-pounder brought aboard immediately after Vince Wilfork left, but he put together his most consistent season as a pro and was the team's top defensive tackle. It would not be a surprise if the Patriots opted to pick up his fifth-year option for 2019. Lawrence Guy was absolutely solid as the team's other primary interior defender and ended up playing more defensive snaps than anyone not named Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy. Adam Butler, the undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt, showed promise as an interior rusher, and Ricky Jean Francois came through with valuable contributions late in the season. Alan Branch, meanwhile, struggled to find his footing after signing a new deal last offseason, and this group struggled against the run. They allowed opponents to average 4.7 yards per carry, which was the second-worst mark in the league. Having another body inside to improve the rotation and help eat up blockers - such as Vincent Valentine, who spent the season on injured reserve - would've helped. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brown, Guy, Valentine, Butler, Branch

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Francois

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


The need here hinges on a couple factors: 1) Can Branch be a dependable option in 2018, and b) how does the team feel about Valentine's odds of becoming a regular after missing the entirety of his second season? Hard to believe the answer to that first question would be a resounding "yes." He was a healthy scratch down the stretch in the team's biggest games of the season and could be a cap casualty. The perception of Valentine is a little murkier. The Patriots should feel good about what they have in Brown and Guy, and Adam Butler showed flashes of his potential as a sub rusher. An important factor in the equation here is just how frequently Bill Belichick likes to use his edge defenders inside. Flowers has been especially effective in that regard, and Deatrich Wise the ability to beat interior offensive linemen as well. Still, the Patriots could use a player here to help bolster their big-bodied depth up front. They simply can't have another year where they're near the bottom of the league against the run. Some of that falls on linebacker play, but another competent space-eater would help. Let's put this spot at a 6 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay Memorial "How Concerned Are You?!?" Meter.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY


A handful of big names hit the open market in March at this position. Carolina's Star Lotulelei may be the best of the bunch (even though he's coming off of a down season) and Atlanta's Dontari Poe isn't all that far behind. There are a few under-the-radar names who could be contributors even if they aren't huge names. Shamar Stephen of the Vikings, Justin Ellis of the Raiders and Bennie Logan of the Chiefs are intriguing options. From a Patriots perspective - and we've suggested this kind of move multiple times in this series - finding an accomplished veteran near the end of his career could pay dividends. Buffalo's Kyle Williams and Detroit's Haloti Ngata are both into their mid-30s, but maybe they could be coaxed into a season in New England as the No. 3 guy on the inside. We all saw just how much it meant to Williams to make the playoffs last season. He may want to ride it out in Buffalo as one of that team's unquestioned leaders, but a season playing under Belichick could be enticing. One more name: Sheldon Richardson. The Patriots are plenty familiar with the former Jets defender, and he'd be a fine on-the-field fit, with a couple of caveats. Is his head is on straight? And what's his market? His talent level and age (27) would suggest he commands big bucks. But if the market is suppressed because teams are worried about whether or not his head is screwed on correctly, does he end up being a relatively low-risk signing? Doesn't seem like someone the Patriots would gamble on, but never say never. Would he take a short-term deal to rebuild his image and then hit the market while he's still in his late-20s?

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


The name everyone will be watching, particularly at next week's combine, when his next-level athleticism will be on display for all to see, will be Vita Vea of Washington. He's 6-foot-4, 344 pounds, and he was much more than a clog-the-middle man for the Huskies. He rushed the passer. He even covered punts. He's expected to run a sub 5-second 40...and he'll be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. For a team like the Patriots that may be looking for help against the run? Alabama's Da'Ron Payne is enticing as a run-stuffer and he's a good enough athlete to potentially make some noise as an interior rusher. Michigan's Maurice Hurst and Florida's Taven Bryan have the kind of quick get-off that could make them first-round interior disrupters. One name to keep an eye on because of his rare combination of size and athleticism: Virginia Tech's Tim Settle. He's 6-3, 335 pounds, he's shown great quickness for a player with his frame, and he's only 20 years old. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


The Patriots don't have to do anything drastic here with Brown and Guy in the fold, but another dependable contributor could alter the look of their front-seven and provide a lift against the run. Players like Lotulelei and Poe - and Richardson if another team gets desperate -- could be too pricey to make Belichick and Nick Caserio bite. Williams or Ngata would be solid in the locker room and legitimate top-three options inside if healthy. And someone such as Ellis, in his fifth year out of Louisiana Tech, probably won't break the bank but could be what they need. He's played 16 games in three of his four years in the league. Settle, because he looks like a tremendous athlete with NFL size who's still growing as a player, could be tough to pass on at the end of the first if he's available. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to Vince Wilfork. 

 

Why Malcom Brown is crucial piece for Patriots against Eagles

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Why Malcom Brown is crucial piece for Patriots against Eagles

MINNEAPOLIS -- Malcom Brown began his career with impossible-to-reach expectations in New England. 

The Patriots declined their team option on Vince Wilfork's contract in March 2015. Less than two months later, Brown was drafted in the first round. 

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Brown, like Wilfork, came out of college as a 320-pound defensive tackle. Like Wilfork, Brown fell to the Patriots in the back half of the first round despite projections that he'd go higher.  The presumption was that Brown would be Wilfork 2.0.

But through two seasons in a two-gapping system that differed vastly from the style he played at the University of Texas, Brown hadn't quite lived up to that reputation. He was good. Very good at times. But he wasn't Vince. 

See? Impossible. 

But now, three seasons in, people know what to expect from Brown. While he may not be Wilfork in his prime, he's an excellent run defender who has the ability to occasionally flash as a pass-rusher. In 15 games this season, including playoffs, he has 30 run-stuffs to go along with three sacks, a quarterback hit and 14 hurries, per Pro Football Focus. Despite dealing with an ankle injury mid-season, this was likely Brown's best and most consistent year as a pro. 

Brown represents one half of his team's top defensive tackle duo, along with Lawrence Guy. As a first- and second-down player mostly, he's been relied upon to take on heavy workloads when the plan is to snuff out opposing running backs. Against the Jaguars and Leonard Fournette in the AFC title game, for instance, Brown played 57 of a possible 73 snaps and helped hold the Jags to 3.2 yards per carry.

He'll have an opportunity to further create a name for himself among Patriots fans in Super Bowl LII, as the Eagles have a bruising running game that features LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. Brown was listed with a foot injury last week and missed practices on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He returned to practice on Sunday, however, and has explained that he was not at all concerned about his availability for the Super Bowl. 

Brown indicated to NBC Sports Boston last week that his absences could be explained by the fact that he needed to receive some extra treatment. The Super Bowl was always in play, though, he believed. 

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Why might Brown factor in as a crucial piece in the matchup with Philadelphia? Under coach Doug Pederson, the Eagles run many of the same type of horizontal-stretching plays featured in Kansas City under Pederson's mentor, Andy Reid. The reason Philly power backs have had success in that scheme is due in part to the fact that the offense can get defenders spread thin across the field, limiting the bodies to crowd the box and smother big-bodied runners. 

Against the Eagles, then, it will be critical to have Brown (and Guy, and Ricky Jean Francois, and maybe even Alan Branch . . . ) available to them. Those players are adept at taking on double-teams and covering for their teammates at the second level if there is a motion or an offensive alignment that has taken them away from the middle of the field. 

Former Patriots coaching assistant and Ringer analyst Mike Lombardi said last week that he's picking the Eagles to beat the Patriots because "What the Eagles do is they make you defend the width of the field and they can attack you inside with their power, whether it's Blount, Ajayi, whoever they have as their back."

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"They can attack you inside," Lombardi added. "Those run-pass options become a problem. They're Kansas City with more skill players."

Fortunately for the Patriots, it looks like they won't have to plan for that style without Brown. He may not be Wilfork, but no one is. He's one of the two best they have at that position, and if he can help his team with another ring -- his second in as many seasons -- he'll have carved out a place in Patriots lore all his own. 

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