The Los Angeles Rams’ treatment of RB Todd Gurley and reliance on RB C.J. Anderson throughout the playoffs was one of the strangest sagas in team history. Perhaps stranger is that it seemingly was aided by the absence of RB Malcolm Brown.
Brown, an undrafted free agent who joined the team in the 2015 season along with Gurley, has long operated outside the limelight. With Gurley having exploded onto the NFL scene as the 2015 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, there hasn’t been much opportunity for the rest of the running back depth chart since Gurley got his first start in Week 4 of his rookie season. And with RB Benny Cunningham as the RB2 for 2015 and 2016, Brown was an afterthought in his early NFL career.
Over the last two seasons though, Brown has seen an expanded role. Blowouts in 2017 and 2018 gave Brown some crucial playing time and his insane releve against the New Orleans Saints in the regular season was a clear example of his athleticism:
Brown injured his clavicle in Week 13 against the Detroit Lions. When Gurley aggravated his knee two weeks later, it opened the door for Anderson late in the regular season and into the playoffs. Had Brown avoided the injury in December, would he have produced as well as Anderson did in his short time with the Rams? We’ll never know, but the fact the Rams opted to retain Brown and not Anderson at least indicates he remains the preferred alternative to Gurley for the Rams’ coaching staff and front office.
So with Gurley having succumbed to “wear and tear” issues down the stretch, could we see and expanded role for Brown in 2019?
Brown averaged more than 5 carries per game in 2017, though that number is skewed by three blowout games in which Brown hit double-digit carries and the Week 17 game against San Francisco in which Rams Head Coach Sean McVay opted to rest the starters. If you take those four games out and look at his regular usage in competitive games, Brown had just 1.86 carries per game as the Rams leaned into Gurley’s production and didn’t even log a single carry in seven games. Not surprisingly, Brown also performed better with more carries averaging 4.08 yards per carry in those four “irregular” games in which he had 12.5 carries per game and 3.23 ypc in the “regular” contests. And it was a similar story in 2018. In ten “regular” games, Brown had 1.8 carries per game though he hit 5.61 yards per carry thanks largely to a big game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3. Two blowout games saw Brown hit 12.5 carries per game and a very good 4.44 yards per carry.
Will Brown get more than 2 carries per game in your average Sunday game of competitive football? It’s hard to think not given what transpired in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl LIII. If the Rams and McVay are sincere about keeping Gurley healthy and fresher for a playoff run than they did this year, it certainly has to mean good things for Brown. And after Anderson’s productivity thanks largely to the Rams offensive line along with the Rams’ preference to keep Brown over Anderson, it’s hard not to think an expanded role for Brown could mean many more highlights to come.
If it goes well, it could mean the Rams have set up a two-headed attack that offers more longevity than the one they used through the playoffs last year.
As if the Rams’ offense needed any more help!