There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.
The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.
The Steelers used three of their four picks within the first four rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft to address the offensive side of the ball, first taking a wide receiver, then a running back, and rounding things out with an offensive lineman, with their second pick in the fourth round.
The fifth draft pick for the Steelers, and the second defender, did not come until the sixth round this year, but it came in the form of the second Maryland Terrapin, following the fourth-round selection of running back Anthony McFarland.
It was the fourth time in as many years Pittsburgh drafted teammates, after Devin Bush and Zach Gentry last year, Mason Rudolph and James Washington the year before that, and Cameron Sutton and Joshua Dobbs in 2017. Not that that means a great deal, though they all managed to make the roster, and only Dobbs out of that group is gone—only because they were able to trade him for strong compensation.
McFarland’s teammate was Antoine Brooks, a senior defensive back whom general manager Kevin Colbert described as half a safety, half a linebacker. His athleticism has many limiting his ceiling—a level of athleticism that was once greater as a high school quarterback before he suffered a severe injury.
While Brooks may have limited range, such that you won’t see him playing single-high in important situations any time soon, he is a true student of the game and knows how to read plays and take the correct angles, habits that see him routinely around the ball.
Even if he didn’t record a flurry of turnovers at the college level, he has displayed good hands when given the opportunity. He is an aggressive and hard-hitting safety who will be a great asset to the special teams unit, first and foremost, with an opportunity for more.
The Steelers specifically talked about him after the draft as a hybrid player who could potentially play that dimebacker role, replacing a linebacker on obvious passing situations. As smart as he may be, however, he probably has a long way before he can reasonably expect to be contributing on defense.
After all, safety is a position with already-established starters in Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick. While Jordan Dangerfield and Marcus Allen are not the stoutest competition for depth, they have years of experience in the system. Brooks will also have to compete with players like John Battle and Tyreee Kinnel for a spot on the 53-man roster, which will largely be decided based on special teams—if there is an opportunity to get to that, at least.