It’s far from a rarity that late-round picks get overshadowed by those who come before. Generally, the higher a player is selected, the more likely that he is to be successful in the league, because, after all, at least one team though that he was better, or a better fit, than everybody else for that moment for their team.
That doesn’t mean late-round players are to be forgotten about. There are plenty of success stories to be had in the late rounds, and among players who weren’t even drafted. And one of the most recent hopefuls to write such a story is Antoine Brooks out of Maryland, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Described after the draft by Kevin Colbert as half a linebacker, half a safety, Brooks has previously said that, while the coaches have given him a number of roles to look over, the focus has still been about playing safety at this early stage of the game, which would be what one would expect.
But he does believe that he is capable of playing in a variety of roles. And not just capable, but ready and willing. Brooks did move around, especially year-to-year, and with changing coaching staffs over the last three years, so it wouldn’t be new to him.
“I describe myself as a versatile player”, he told Missi Matthews during a video interview for the team’s website. “I’m ready to play defense, ready to play special teams, play anywhere on the defense play, play anywhere on special teams. I just plan to contribute. I’ve been doing it at Maryland. It’s the same thing, it’s just the same process, it’s just got to faster this time, especially dealing with corona right now. So I gotta pick up a lot of things faster than normal”.
One thing of note is that he does come into a safety room—and an inside linebacker room, for that matter—that is thin in depth. Currently, their backup inside linebackers have zero combined defensive snaps in their career. Their backup safeties aren’t much better, especially after acknowledging the fact that Jordan Dangerfield’s starts came back in 2016.
The Steelers would not have bothered to draft Brooks, a guy they’ve acknowledged that they had been scouting for a couple of years, if they did not see a clear opportunity for him to make the team. And they have also made it pretty clear—far more than they ordinarily do—that they view him as somebody who can be asked to handle different assignments.
I think it’s easy to get the sense that Brooks is going to be a great practice player, and even in the preseason. The question really comes about how he would play in a real NFL game, especially when asked to play in coverage.