Analysis: What Malcolm Brown's return means for the Rams in 2019

When running back Malcolm Brown suffered a season-ending clavicle injury in December, head coach Sean McVay was pretty clear about how significant of a loss it was for the 2018 Rams.

Los Angeles had just clinched the NFC West, but McVay didn’t really mince words when asked whether or not Brown’s injury had a potential silver lining in that the team could see what it had in younger players in the lead up to the 2018 postseason.

“No, I don't think so,” McVay said back on Dec. 3. “[Y]ou never want to lose a player like Malcolm. We still have a lot of important games.”

McVay cited Brown’s contributions not just to the offense, but also to special teams for why the Texas product was so important to the team.

Obviously, the Rams were able to overcome losing Brown with the signing of C.J. Anderson — who ended up being a vital piece in the run to Super Bowl LIII. But McVay’s sentiments back in early December help explain why it’s so significant that Los Angeles matched Brown’s offer sheet from Detroit last Friday.

As a restricted free agent, Brown had signed a two-year offer sheet with the Lions early last week. Via The Athletic, at this week’s owner’s meetings, Detroit general manager Bob Quinn said Brown was “really the type of player that we were invested in adding to the running back room. Thought he was young, thought he … was very reasonable for what we can fit into our budget at that spot.”

Check out the best photos of the Rams running backs from the 2018 season.

That offer, however, was apparently good enough to fit into the Rams’ budget for the next two years as well — since Los Angeles exercised its right of first refusal on any Brown contract offer and kept him in Southern California.

As the roster stands with three weeks to go before the start of the offseason program, Brown slots in for 2019 just as he did for 2018 — as the Rams’ backup running back behind Todd Gurley. That’s a role at which Brown excelled in 2018, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 10.4 yards per reception in his fairly limited offensive snaps. At the time of his season-ending injury, Brown was playing about 15 percent of the time to Gurley’s 85 percent. And even though Brown didn’t play the last four regular-season games, he still was on the field for a total of 11.2 percent of Los Angeles’ offensive snaps in 2018.

Plus Brown was in for 27.8 percent of Los Angeles’ total special teams plays — a pretty high percentage considering he missed four games.

So going into the 2019 season, there’s a good chance Brown could expand his role on offense, as both McVay and general manager Les Snead have said that the Rams would like to monitor Gurley’s snaps more in this upcoming season to lessen the wear and tear on his body. And if Brown can continue at the pace he was on last season — when he was a bruising back that didn’t let defenses get a chance to breathe just because Gurley was on the sidelines — that's good news for Los Angeles' offense.

There’s also a chance that either John Kelly or Justin Davis could expand their respective roles, depending on their progress in the offseason program. Snead mentioned earlier this month that there’s a place in McVay’s offense for more of a hybrid-type running back that has not been utilized much in the head coach’s first two seasons in Los Angeles. If that were to happen, it could further lessen the burden on Gurley to carry as much of the load at the position as he has over the last few years.

Brown’s return, however, would appear to make Anderson’s return to the club a bit more unlikely — given the similarity of their respective roles on the offense. However, with the beginning of the offseason program still weeks away — not to mention that the beginning of the season is still over five months away — there’s a lot of time for something on that front to change in preparation for 2019.

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