The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested two first-round picks and a second-round pick on the safety position since 2016, but they have only used late-round picks otherwise to insulate the depth chart there, using a seventh-round pick previously on Gerod Holliman and a fifth-round pick on Marcus Allen.
The 2020 NFL Draft saw them take another swing at the position in the sixth round, drafting Antoine Brooks out of Maryland. But he is not your standard safety, as he profiles, even by the team’s own admission, more as a hybrid position who will be playing toward the line of scrimmage, rather than dropping away from it.
Recently, Missi Matthews conducted a video interview with Brooks’ former head coach at Maryland, Mike Locksley, during which she asked him to essentially give the site a scouting report, an understanding of the kind of player they are getting in the sixth round.
“He’s a guy that’s a hybrid position player”, he said. “He’s played both positions here during his career. He was an outside linebacker prior to us getting here this past season. I think we showed, and he showed, that he’s capable of playing in the deep part of the field, whether it’s a half player or thirds player, with his range”.
Brooks did spend more time working in the slot during the 2019 season, though many feel that he was exposed to some extent. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he didn’t have trouble with his backpedal, but the stiffness when flipping his hips in coverage was evident. But Locklsey trusts his diagnostic skills, as well as another skill relevant to defensive backs.
“Really good ball skills. He was a quarterback in high school. The ball skills are there, he’s used to handling the ball”, he said. “When the ball’s in the air, he’s capable of making the play and coming down with it”. Brooks did record four interceptions during his college career, including a nifty one last season.
“The thing I think is the best part of his game is the versatility, and that he can drop down in the box as that hybrid, rover-type player”, he went on, adding that “he brings a tremendous energy as a blitzer. Really sure open-field tackler”.
Brooks does offer an intriguing skill set and can certainly be described as a ‘football player’, in the most complimentary sense. One does have to wonder, however, if he has the requisite athleticism to play as a defensive back, or the requisite size to play as a linebacker—or failing that, an appropriate middle ground between the two to allow him to serve in that gray area.