These days, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of 220-pound safeties coming out of college, and the ones who do tip the scales that far tend to be comfortably north of the six-foot mark. Not so for Antoine Brooks, Jr., the newest safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, coming to the team via the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Despite being just 5’11”, Brooks is a big boy at that weight, even if the team’s website alternately lists him at different weights—at 210 on the roster, and 215 in the article published after he was picked. But he was referred to at his Combine-reported weight of 220 multiple times by the coaches during and after the draft.
Described as a “well-built banger”, even the Steelers openly talk about the potential for him to play a role within the defense that is outside the traditional confines of the standard strong safety position, as Mike Tomlin said after the draft.
“I think there’s a lot of guys in today’s game that fit that bill, and it becomes easier and easier to forecast those capabilities because you see them do it on the college field, and as Kevin mentioned, you saw a lot of those things on his Big Ten tape, and so it made it easy to potentially forecast his abilities to do those things”, he said.
“We’re excited about him as a safety. We’re excited about him as a sub-package player”, he added. “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”.
While useful, it does limit the top end of his athleticism, and thus the range of assignments they can ask of him. The more they ask of him playing toward the line of scrimmage rather than away from it, the better it probably conforms to his skill inclinations.
Of course, there is still a long way to go before he even has the opportunity to show the sort of aptitude that would get coaches to trust him with a defensive role. Then again, it didn’t take Kameron Kelly long to earn defensive playing time last year, nor Mike Hilton in 2017, and in both cases they had never been on a 53-man roster before.
Brooks’ secret weapon is his instincts,, which allow him to play at a level above his athleticism, and which favors him should he ultimately be targeted as a conversion to linebacker. Whether or not this is ever called into service remains to be seen, but in the meantime, he figures to be a useful 220-pound body for Danny Smith.