After the third round, it could be debated that either defensive tackle, safety, or inside linebacker was the thinnest position remaining on the defensive side of the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While they are comfortable with their starters in every area, short of nose tackle, at both safety and inside linebacker, they lost or parted with former starters, and one of their top two reserves came from the practice squad.
The team tried to address both in one pick when they drafted Antoine Brooks, Jr. out of Maryland in the sixth round. A 220-pound safety, it’s fair to say he’s not the Ed Reed, Earl Thomas type. But that is the profile that they were looking for, and he in particular had their eye for a while.
“Antoine Brooks is someone that we’ve been following really for two years”, general manager Kevin Colbert mentioned during the opening remarks of the Steelers’ post-draft press conference. “Antoine talked about coming out early, decided to stay”.
“He played in a unique position at the University of Maryland that’s really relevant to today’s NFL and college football”, he went on. “He’s half a linebacker, he’s half a safety. He will be a safety in our defense with the ability to play in packages, because that’s what he’s done and he’s done well. He’s very versatile”.
Brooks spent a lot of time in the box in 2018 for the Terrapins, but was moved around more last season, spending some time in the slot, where he looked less comfortable, but at least it expands the work that he has put on film.
“We’re excited about him as a safety”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of the now former teammate of his son. “We’re excited about him as a sub-package player. We’re excited about maybe what he could bring to us as a special teamer, as well. That 220-pound body is a very useful body in today’s game for the reasons that we’ve been talking about”.
Brooks come into a position that is already locked down by two first-round picks in the starting lineup in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds. Behind them, however, there is much to be desired, with long-time special teamer Jordan Dangerfield and 2018 fifth-round pick Marcus Allen as the direct backups. And Allen spent most of last season on the practice squad.
While Brooks doesn’t have great speed, he appears to possess a strong football intelligence that allows him to take the proper angles to get himself around the ball quickly and frequently. The question is whether or not these shortcuts will translate to making the types of plays with the type of frequency that will be necessary for him to carve out a role at the NFL level.