In the coming weeks, I will be summarizing the film notes from my personal pre-draft prospect scouting reports and take an in-depth look at the Steelers' 2020 rookie class (including undrafted free agents). What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where do they fit in with the Steelers? Be sure to check out each scouting report over the next few weeks to find out my thoughts on the newest members of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Next up, Antoine Brooks, Jr.
- Name: Antoine Brooks, Jr.
- Date of Birth (Age): October 28, 1997 (22)
- Hometown: Lanham, Maryland
- College: Maryland
- Class: Senior
- Position: Safety
- College Number: 25
- Height: 5'11"
- Weight: 220 lbs
- Hands: 9 1/4"
- Arms: 31 1/8"
- Wingspan: 74 7/8"
- 40 Yard Dash: 4.64 seconds
- Bench Press: 18 reps
- Vertical Jump: 34.5"
- Broad Jump: ---
- 3 Cone Drill: ---
- 20 Yard Shuttle: ---
2019 Stats: 12 games, 87 total tackles (69 solo), 8.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery
Career Stats: 42 games, 237 total tackles (173 solo), 27.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Antoine Brooks Jr. is a senior who started in 12 games in 2019 and 35 games over the course of his career at Maryland. As a freshman, he was primarily a special teams contributor for six games before being suspended for the remainder of the season. As a sophomore, Brooks played in 12 games and started 11, spending most of his time as a nickelback. During this season, Brooks led all-Big Ten defensive backs in tackles for loss (9.5) while also leading the team in solo tackles (53) and finishing second in total tackles (77) and tied for second in interceptions (2). Brooks received honorable-mention All-Big Ten as a sophomore. In his junior year, Brooks started all 12 games and led the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and finished third in tackles (68). His performance this year led to him being named second-team All-Big Ten. As a senior, Brooks again started 12 games while leading the team in total tackles and solo tackles (87 and 69, respectively), tied for first in passes defended (5), and finishing second in tackles for loss (8.5). Brooks finished the season with 5.8 solo tackles per game, which was first in the Big Ten and ninth in the country. His production as a senior led to another second-team All-Big Ten nod. After his senior season, Brooks was also named Maryland's Most Valuable Player.
Brooks suffered a broken wrist and a compound leg fracture during his senior year of high school.
Body Type & Athletic Ability
Brooks has adequate height, arm length, and hand size but very good weight for a safety. He possesses a compact, very muscular, filled out frame that he uses to his advantage to keep a low center of gravity and deliver heavy hits when given the chance. Brooks has marginal overall athletic ability with very good explosiveness and solid footwork but adequate acceleration and quickness, marginal agility and straight-line speed, and poor change of direction skills. His issues with agility and change of direction are mostly due to hip stiffness and tight leg movement. His marginal straight-line speed will cause struggles when recovering in coverage. He plays with very good functional strength for the position.
- Elite starting experience both on defense and on special teams; comes to the NFL with an elite football IQ
- "Big dog/alpha dog" mentality on defense and a very good leader on and off of the field
- Has very good play strength; upper and lower body functional strength allows him to stand up to offensive players of all shapes and sizes
- Experience in both Man and Zone schemes, as well blitzing
- Versatile chess piece who played as a nickelback, box/overhang defender, slot corner, and single-high/middle-of-field safety for Maryland
- A former quarterback who possesses very good instincts pre-snap with good movement and communication with a very good feel for what is happening in front of him
- Good at quickly diagnosing run versus pass with good reaction to drive on shallow and intermediate areas of the field
- Very good footwork in and out of his backpedal when working in shallow zones; very smooth transition when disengaging and coming forward to attack downhill
- Solid press against tight ends and running backs lined up on and off of the line of scrimmage; uses strong hands to work the body of offensive player at the snap
- Reroutes offensive players with good leverage to stay on top of routes near the line of scrimmage
- Solid Off-Man against tight ends and running backs attached to the box on underneath routes; attacks with good eye demeanor and route anticipation
- Very good downhill range; mirrors underneath routes and stays square to receivers before using an explosive burst to close in tight spaces
- Solid in shallow Zone coverage (Flat/Hook/Curl) with good recognition and anticipation to read the quarterback and attack underneath Hitch/Slant/Drag/Swing/Bubble routes in front of him
- When given the opportunity, Brooks displays good ball skills in both Man and Zone coverage; when timed up properly, he can can knock the ball away aggressively or make a big hit as the ball arrives to disrupt the receiver
- Plays with elite competitive toughness and constantly brings high levels of energy on defense and special teams on every single play
- Elite in run support when aligned in the box; effectively leverages gaps and can work from high-to-low to fill alleys quickly
- Very good processing and patience when reading the flow of the play; keeps himself square and in position to urgently attack downhill in a hurry once the running back commits to a running lane
- Fights his way through traffic with ease to take running space away from the ball carrier
- Very good functional strength and physical toughness when engaging blockers; solid use of his hands allows him to to disengage from blocks or slip underneath them and come free
- Good open field tackler who takes good angles when attacking ball carriers
- Closes on ball carriers in a hurry, keeps himself balanced when breaking down, and still delivers violent blows
- Good finisher when tackling with solid technique; strong lower body provides great leg drive to push the pile back
- An elite blitzer with experience attacking from the interior, as an overhang defender, and aligned as a cornerback
- Good timing and acceleration at the snap when blitzing with a relentless motor get from point A to point B no matter what it takes
- Bullies running backs responsible for blocking him in pass protection
- Elite special teamer who can be a difference-maker on coverage units
- His elite football IQ creates confidence to take unnecessary risks and abandon assignments trying to make plays as a freelancer
- Adequate press against wide receivers who have good footwork and releases at the line of scrimmage
- When aligned away from the box in Off-Man coverage against faster receivers, tight/stiff hips lead to marginal abilities in opening up and carrying receivers into open spaces
- Adequate in Off-Man when reading and reacting against quicker wide receivers aligned away from the box; footwork gets heavy and hip stiffness prevents quick change of direction matching the receiver’s cut
- Marginal straight-line speed shows up when he is beat quickly at the line of scrimmage by receivers who have solid (or better) downfield speed
- Poor recovery speed when beat in coverage
- Poor change of direction when covering wide receivers downfield in and out of their breaks at the top of routes in Man coverage
- Shows an adequate ability in dropping into deep Zone coverage, struggling to quickly reach his landmarks before the ball is thrown
- Marginal transition quickness in Zone coverage; marginal range to cover a lot of ground when he misses his landmark or is between zones and receivers have sneaked behind him
- When tasked with single-high, deep half, or deep third coverage in Zone, Brooks shows marginal abilities in feeling vertical routes from wide receivers; struggles to feel vertical push, causing him to get turned out of his backpedal too early or too late
- Poor hip fluidity leads to marginal range when playing deep Zone coverage and Brooks has to turn towards the sideline to close on an Out or a Comeback route
- The same hip fluidity issues also lead to adequate range when closing on Fly/Seam and Post routes from deep Zone coverage
- Will hit with the shoulder and not wrap up when looking to deliver some big hits
Fit with the Steelers & Projection
The Steelers made one of the biggest splashes of the 2o19 season when they made the unprecedented move of giving up their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick to help shore up their secondary alongside Terrell Edmunds. Needless to say, Fitzpatrick more than did his part by turning in a stellar All-Pro performance in his second season in the NFL. Behind Fitzpatrick and Edmunds, things were a bit murkier going into the 2020 NFL Draft, as much of the depth was filled with question marks and lacked any type of proven experience. Marcus Allen has yet to solidify his role on the roster, Jordan Dangerfield is largely a special teams standout, and John Battle and Tyree Kinnel are newer additions to the team. The Steelers were expected to address the position at some point in the draft and the expectation was that they would look for a safety who could fit more of the "box safety/dimebacker" role that they had hoped to fill with players like safety Morgan Burnett or hybrid linebacker Mark Barron. The Steelers made Antoine Brooks Jr. their sixth-round selection in the hopes that he can fit that role for their defense.
Brooks is a developmental box/strong safety prospect with upside as a role player and key special teams contributor who you can win with. Brooks would be best utilized in Press-Man coverage against tight ends and shallow Zone coverage where he can attack underneath routes in front of him in tighter spaces. He is at his best when he is allowed to be an enforcer in the box and as an overhang defender near the line of scrimmage. He excels as an elite run support defender, is a very good tackler, and brings elite competitive toughness to both the defense and special teams. His struggles with hip stiffness and straight-line speed present issues when trusting him with deep Zone coverage responsibilities. He also lacks the quickness in Off-Man coverage to mirror faster wide receivers and cover them downfield and the range required to play the deep middle of the field and close on passes away from him.
With the Steelers possessing a loaded defense at all three levels, Brooks will be given time to find his niche on the defense while getting his hands dirty on special teams. Just like Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith before him, there will be plenty of opportunities for Brooks to shine in this area while adjusting to the nuances of what is required of him on defense. Realistically, Brooks athletic limitations covering players deep downfield will force him into being more of a box defender, but that isn't a bad thing. His skills near the line of scrimmage are more reminiscent of a linebacker with how fearless he is and how disruptive he can be when defending against the run and blitzing the quarterback (something we have seen quite often from players like Mike Hilton). As a nickel-package defender, the Steelers can use his skillset to also play Man coverage against tight ends or underneath Zone coverage on shallow areas of the field. This might prevent him from ever truly becoming an every-down starter but this type of role could get him on the field quickly and add some juice to the Steelers already fearsome defensive unit. Brooks also has the abilities and mindset of a fearless and selfless special teams ace, where he could flourish for years on coverage units.
The concerns surrounding Brooks' fluidity in coverage might be something he never overcomes as a player but that shouldn't prevent him from finding his place on this defense. Very few safeties in this draft class possess the tackling and run defending talents that Brooks has and could make him a terrific enforcer on the Steelers' defense and special teams.