4. Malcom Brown
From the moment he was selected at No. 32 overall in last spring’s draft, Brown has been everything the Patriots could have asked for and more. Once again, Bill Belichick nailed it with the recognition of an aging player; Brown was by far a better player than Vince Wilfork this season.
Brown accumulated 48 combined tackles, three sacks, 17 yards lost and two fumble recoveries in his rookie season. Worth noting is the fact that those two heads-up fumble recoveries led the entire defense. Brown has also grown into a stalwart defender against the run.
Here’s Bill Belichick heaping praise on the 2015 first rounder:
"I’d say it kind of maybe started around the bye week somewhere there after the Jacksonville game, somewhere in the area. I think he’s really come on through the season, which isn’t always the case with first-year players. It took him a while to get to that point through training camp and the early part of the season, but he’s become much better and more consistent in every phase of the game — running game, passing game, play recognition, communication, adjustments — just everything. It seems like every week he just builds on it. He’s really hit a good slope, a good incline. He’s worked hard. There is a lot on every rookie’s plate. There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front, so it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play, and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good."
And he’s just 21 years old.
Next: 3. Malcolm Butler