A consensus first-team All-American and finalist for the Nagurski and Outland trophies in 2014, Texas Longhorns defensive tackle Malcom Brown opted to give up his final season of eligibility in Austin to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft.
It wasn't an unexpected decision, as Brown led the team in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (6.5), becoming the first defensive tackle to lead the Longhorns in both categories in a season since Tony Degrate in 1984. He also led the team in forced fumbles (2), and tied for the team lead in QB pressures (8), while recording 72 tackles during a truly breakout junior season.
"Malcom had an unbelievable season and was a lot of fun to coach," head coach Charlie Strong said at the time. "He's a tremendous football player and a great young man who has a really bright future ahead of him. I know the decision was a difficult one, but we had some really good talks. He has our support and we wish him the best as he prepares for the NFL."
In February, Brown helped his draft stock by turning in a solid performance at the NFL Scouting Combine:
Draft expert Daniel Jeremiah was effusive in his praise of Brown on the NFL Network (transcription courtesy of Horns247):
"One of my favorite players in this draft class, he's easy to figure out when you study him, he had a great day today. He can be dominant at the point of attack but also has that quickness to penetrate up-field and I thought he did a nice job through the bag drills today."
While in Indianapolis, Brown measured in a 6'2 and 320 pounds, with 32.5-inch arms and 10-inch hands.
As a result of the strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, Brown did not participate in any testing at the Texas Pro Scouting Day in late March, but he did go through individual workouts for several teams, including the Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, and Cincinnati Bengals.
A starter in every game over his last two seasons, Brown unquestionably fulfilled the potential that made him a consensus five-star prospect and an Under Armour All-American coming out of high school in 2012. In the 247Sports Composite rankings, he was the No. 9 prospect, the No. 2 defensive tackle, and the No. 3 player in Texas. A re-ranking of 2012 prospects in the state would likely slot Brown in the top position based on his college production and current NFL Draft projections.
Ever since high school, one aspect of Brown's game that always stood out was his motor. One highlight reel featured Brown chasing plays 30 or 40 yards downfield just because he believed that he had a chance to make a play. When he started experiencing more success at Texas, that never changed with him -- when the Brenham product was on the field, he left everything he had on it.
More than just possessing a great motor and strong athleticism, Brown also has a deep understanding of the game.
"He's fun to watch, but that's the way he practices," Strong said last fall. "He takes it from practice to the game, and the same thing happens at practice. He's a student -- he's one of those guys that listens. Even during the game he'll come back and say, 'Hey, listen, when that guy checks, this is what it is, this is the run play it is. Or when he checks this, this is a pass play.' He's always talking and communicating on the sideline. He works, and that's the respect that the players give him because he works so hard."
Of course, a motor that runs hot and an understanding of the game wouldn't matter if Brown possessed merely average physical skills -- Brown is light on his feet, with uncommon quickness for a 320-pounder, allowing him to quickly engage opponents and then use his strong hands to stack and shed them, scraping down the line of scrimmage against the run game.
One of Brown's best games as a Longhorn came early in the 2014 season against the Bruins, when plays like this showcased his hands and exceptionally quick feet:
Capable of creating displacement with his bull rush, Brown can also flash a swim move to create sacks and tackles for loss. All of those skills combine to make him extremely difficult to block. When opponents have to reach block him, it's a recipe for disaster -- on this particular play in the Texas Bowl, Arkansas pulls the guard on a play-action pass, asking the center to move laterally to attempt to slow down Brown. It didn't work so well:
Compared to teammate Hassan Ridgeway, Brown doesn't have immense power in his lower body, which can make it difficult for him to maintain the point of attack against double teams. And though his bull rush is effective and he can attack half a man to create penetration, he doesn't possess a highly-polished skill set as a pass rusher with multiple counter moves.
Leverage can also become a problem for Brown at times when he gets tired and lets his pad level get high. He also failed to consistently dominate during the season as he did in flashes against opponents like UCLA.
Already married and with two children, Brown is a stable player with a family to support, in stark comparison to players like Kenny Vaccaro, the last first-round draft pick from Texas, who had to deal with questions about off-the-field behavior and partying habits during the exhaustive and often invasive draft process. In other words, Brown won't sabotage himself in his quest to maximize his significant potential.
Since he is a good athlete for his size and has experience playing outside in odd fronts, Brown projects as a versatile prospect who can play three-technique defensive tackle next to a pure nose guard or even play a 3-4 defensive end position despite weighing 320 pounds. However, Brown does not have a profile of a player who would be effective as a nose tackle taking on double teams, since that is one of his few weaknesses.
Draft projection -- First round
The SB Nation consensus mock draft released this week has Brown coming off the board with the No. 23 pick by the Detroit Lions. Based on the 20 mock drafts used to compile the report, the big defensive tackle could hear his name called anywhere between the No. 15 selection by the San Francisco 49ers and the No. 32 selection by the New England Patriots.