The 2021 NFL Draft is drawing near, which is as fitting a time as any to take a look back at the rookie season of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2020 NFL Draft. While draft analysis begins as soon as the pick is in, we now have a year’s worth of data on these players to gain more compelling insight.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of J.C. Hassenauer and Henry Mondeaux, because while the 2020 season was their first to accrue, they were not true rookies, but rather first-year players.
The Steelers went into the 2020 NFL Draft with just six selections, including no first-round pick after dealing it to the Dolphins in 2019 for Minkah Fitzpatrick. They received a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Le’Veon Bell. Their natural third-round pick was traded away the year before to move up for Devin Bush.
They swapped fifth and sixth-round picks with Miami for fourth and seventh-round picks, while they sent their previous fifth-round pick to the Seahawks for Nick Vannett. Their other fifth-round pick, which they dealt to Miami, came from the Jaguars in exchange for Joshua Dobbs.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors, as well.
Player: Antoine Brooks, Jr.
Draft Status: Sixth Round (198th overall)
Starts: 4 (0 starts)
Antoine Brooks is very much a Steelers’ draft pick. A high-character overachiever and overcomer of obstacles who has a deep-seated passion for the game of football, he is just the kind of individual that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert like to add to the organization.
For as much as you might like somebody’s intangibles, however, they still have to be able to produce on the field and compete at a certain athletic level. Brooks, who overcame serious injury, doesn’t have the desired speed to play at safety on a full-time basis, but the team has viewed him as a hybrid player.
Still, he did not make the initial 53-man roster, even before Sean Davis was set free and re-signed with veteran Curtis Riley jumping ahead of him. Davis and Jordan Dangerfield were the other two safeties.
Initially, Pittsburgh elevated Brooks to the active roster twice in late November, after which they signed him to the 53-man roster, replacing Bud Dupree’s spot, after the veteran tore his ACL. In all, however, he would only dress for four games.
He did see 28 snaps on defense against the Cincinnati Bengals in the middle of the season, playing in sub-packages in a game that Mike Hilton missed, among others. If he should ever earn a stable spot on the roster and a role in the defense, that figures to be a proper preview of what his role would be.