The New England Patriots took a defensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft for the second year in a row, selecting Malcom Brown from Texas and taking a solid step forward in replacing the irreplaceable Vince Wilfork. Last year, the Pats took Dominique Easley, also a defensive linemen with the versatility to play multiple positions. The Pats have taken a defensive player with their first pick in each of the last four drafts now.
Bill Belichick was clear in his press conference after the first round that Easley and Brown are different players, but what matters most is the continued influx of talent in the defensive trenches. The Patriots struggled against the run last season, especially in short-yardage situations so putting the 320-pound Brown into the mix should help remedy that problem.
Taking Brown does indicate a slight shift in Belichick's defensive philosophy, which has been an ongoing evolution since the complete defensive rebuild that started in 2009. His biggest strength is getting into the backfield quickly, the same as Easley. This signifies just how important generating a pass rush from all spots on the defensive line has become.
When Wilfork was first drafted the Patriots ran a 3-4 defense with the front three two-gapping and holding their ground. While the Pats will still employ two-gapping techniques for certain matchups, it's become a tool, not the base down norm. Brown should be able to learn how to two-gap, but his size and ability against the pass should make him an every-down player in New England, even if he starts off as part of a rotation.
The cupboard was not bare at defensive tackle prior to Brown's arrival. Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Alan Branch join Easley as a promising interior grouping, but the addition of Brown sets their ceiling even higher.
The best defenses are ones who can consistently generate disruption up front and that continues to be something the Patriots struggle with. With the loss of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, a lethal pass rush can help offset the difference.
Brown should be a big part of the plan upfront. He's not going to instantly replace Wilfork all by himself, but he's just the kind of player Belichick can use in a number of ways to maximize his effectiveness.