The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t exactly been bashful about how they view their sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Antoine Brooks. An authority no less than general manager Kevin Colbert said that he is half a safety and half a linebacker. They drafted him with the idea that he could be a hybrid player, and they are making that clear.
While the coaches have primarily been giving him work at safety during their virtual rookie minicamp, Brooks told reporters last week that they have been sending him information about multiple positions, “one by one”, and no doubt that includes responsibilities as a box defender.
Brooks was a linebacker during his first season at Maryland, but moved around in the back end during his final three years. He even spent a lot of time working in the slot during his senior season, though one can debate as to how successful he was performing in that role.
The Steelers entered the 2020 NFL Draft arguably needing depth at both inside linebacker and safety, after losing Mark Barron and Tyler Matakevich at the former position and Sean Davis at the latter. Perhaps they viewed Brooks as a way to kill two birds with one stone.
As it currently stands, the team’s reserves at inside linebacker consists of second-year players in Ulysees Gilbert III and Robert Spillane. Gilbert was a rookie sixth-round pick last season, who played in seven games before succumbing to a back injury. By then, he had played 150-some-odd snaps on special teams, but none on defense. Spillane was a first-year former undrafted free agent, who replaced Gilbert on the 53-man roster, and had a similar special teams snap count, also with none on defense.
As for safety, the current depth rests with Jordan Dangerfield and Marcus Allen. Dangerfield has been with the team in some capacity going back to 2014, but has three years of accrued experience, and hardly any defensive playing time since 2016, but is a 300-snap guy on special teams. Allen was a 2018 fifth-round pick who hardly played as a rookie and spent most of the 2019 season on the practice squad before Kameron Kelly, a first-year undrafted free agent who beat him out for a job, was arrested.
In other words, there wasn’t much in the way of pedigree or defensive performance at either position. Brooks adds a sixth-round tweener into the mix, and it’s not clear what that will mean in the long run. Ultimately, it will be up to him to determine what sort of impact he is able to have.
Surely he will play immediately on special teams, and even become a fixture there, assuming that he makes the 53-man roster, but he won’t be guaranteed to become a defensive contributor. The Steelers spoke very highly of Allen during his first two offseasons, after all.