Los Angeles Rams RB Malcolm Brown: From St. Louis Practice Squad to LA Difference-Maker

by Jake Ellenbogen
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Malcolm Brown scored the very first touchdown in SoFi Stadium history last Sunday Night versus the Dallas Cowboys. He even scored the only two Rams touchdowns in their win in general. In 2020, we sit here and see number 34, Malcolm Brown as he tore through the Cowboys defense for a 100-plus total yard game and two touchdowns. However, five years ago, it was 2015 and Brown had just missed the team as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Texas.

To understand what kind of journey and story Brown possesses you have to know that he was the number one running back recruit in the country back in the 2011 high school recruiting class. He ended up choosing Texas over Oklahoma, Florida State, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Stanford. Throughout Brown’s college career he found himself in a running back by committee backfield which hindered his statistical output and held him out of the spotlight he seemed destined to be a part of. Brown, following his time at Texas, would go on to the NFL Scouting Combine where he posted a 4.62 forty-yard dash time at 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds. Brown ended up going undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft, the same draft the Rams would draft Todd Gurley with their first-round pick in.

Brown worked his tail off that off-season but the St. Louis Rams decided to go with five other running backs in Benny Cunningham, Todd Gurley, Tre Mason, Isaiah Pead, and Chase Reynolds. Surprisingly, neither of these running backs reside with the Rams today and that was only five years ago. Brown, however, was offered a spot on the Rams practice squad that year and was ultimately elevated to the 53-man roster at the tail end of that season. Brown made his debut in the season finale as a backup to Gurley and then ultimately became the go-to backup behind Gurley in 2016 under the Jeff Fisher coached now-Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams ended up firing Fisher after a horrid 2016 in which the team started 3-1 to kick off the season, in 2017, the Rams hired now-Head coach Sean McVay who was expected as an offensive-minded guy to replace Brown in the backfield. However, McVay made Brown once-again Gurley’s backup and his workload slightly increased which even led to Brown scoring his first career touchdown that season. Brown ended up with 246 rushing yards that year going into his exclusive rights free agency period. The Rams, of course, signed brown to an exclusive rights free agent tender and brought him back for the 2018 season. The Rams, in the 2018 NFL Draft would bring in legitimate competition for Brown in the form of John Kelly, a sixth-round pick out of Tennessee. Brown was more than up for the challenge and ended up fending him off easily to retain and remain the backup running back.

That season was special for the Rams as the team went 13-3, won the NFC West division, and went to the Super Bowl. However, for Brown, it was bittersweet. He had to be happy for his team to get there but it had to hurt him watching from the sidelines and unable to help at all. Brown had been having his best season to date with 212 yards in 12 games as a backup before suffering an injury to his clavicle that would effectively end his season. Todd Gurley would end up getting hurt leaving the reigns to UDFA Justin Davis and the aforementioned John Kelly who didn’t do much of anything to feel comfortable about. That’s when the Rams would bring in veteran running back C.J. Anderson who grab hold of the workload and make an instant impact. Just another reason for Brown to have a bittersweet feeling.

In a Super Bowl game in which the Rams only ran the ball 18 times and couldn’t get anything going on the ground, it’s tough to imagine how different the game could have been if the Rams had the stability of Malcolm Brown. Unfortunately, the Rams lost the Super Bowl 13-3 to the New England Patriots which was the beginning of the end for Todd Gurley as the face of the franchise. Brown was an impending restricted free agent running back that was receiving interest from around the league. It didn’t take long for the Detroit Lions to sign Brown to a two-year offer sheet. Many felt this was the end of Brown with the Rams but the team decided to show how much they valued him and ended up matching the sheet.

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Rams would select another running back out of Memphis in the third round by the name of Darrell Henderson. Once again, another added level of competition for Brown to fight for his backup role. Once again though, Brown had beat out another rookie running back to be the go-to backup behind Gurley. In the 2019 season, it was clear Gurley was not the same back and the rumors of his arthritic knee that went around the media circuit all summer were starting to seem like they had merit. The first game the Rams gave Brown arguably his biggest role as a backup when he ran for a career-high 53 yards on 11 carries versus the Panthers and scored two rushing touchdowns to lead the Rams to an opening day road win. For whatever reason though, the Rams would fail to balance the running game and allow Brown to spell a reeling Todd Gurley. It’s why Brown only ended up with 255 rushing yards and five touchdowns through 14 games. Had the Rams relied on Brown more, things could have potentially been different.

The Rams failed to make the playoffs at 9-7 which was ultimately the end of an era for players that were once considered faces of the franchise. The team traded away Brandin Cooks, let Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler walk in free agency, and released Todd Gurley. All of a sudden it was Malcolm Brown as the projected starting running back along with Henderson and Kelly. That is until the Rams spent their third-straight draft selecting a running back. This time in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Rams selected a second-round back in Cam Akers out of Florida State who seemed likely to be the true replacement for Gurley in Los Angeles. Despite all of that, Brown fought and battled in camp and while he didn’t “start” opening night versus the Cowboys, he displayed he’s a cut above the rest at the moment after leading the team in carries with 18, rushing for a career-high 79 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

It’s been a long time coming, life isn’t easy for a backup at any position but when you see what Malcolm Brown has seen ahead of him on the depth chart for years, the injury he had to come back from during the 2018 Super Bowl season and just how hard he’s had to work to get to where he is today, you have to be impressed. If you had told anyone in 2015 that Brown, not Todd Gurley or Tre Mason would be the one who scored the first touchdown in Los Angeles there’s a good chance no one would believe you and think you were nuts. Brown never was satisfied with being a backup, he worked hard but never gave himself the idea he would never get the opportunity. When Gurley signed a record-breaking extension, he could have left and demanded a trade like the way Zac Stacy did two years after he was drafted. He could have gone off the rails like Tre Mason did but Brown stayed the course and now, here is your Los Angeles Rams difference-maker in 2020. At 27-years-old and four talented running backs with him, there’s a chance this could be the final year for Brown as a Ram.

However, if it is or if it isn’t no one can take away the improvement, the hard work, the effort, the professionalism, and the passion he’s showed while donning Ram horns. He’s what you call a “glue-guy” and the Rams need him right now more than ever before. Once again, regardless of what happens in the future, Brown is a Ram now and he will continue to help lead the running game alongside the young guns this season. His contract expires at the end of the year and at the very least he is setting himself up for a potential nice day in the 2021 free agency. Still though, more importantly, his name as he said will live forever and in the history books as the first player to ever score a touchdown at SoFi Stadium.

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