2021 Offseason Questions: Can Antoine Brooks Jr. Compete For Slot Role?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: Now in the conversation, can second-year Antoine Brooks Jr. work his way onto the field via the slot?

A sixth-round pick out of Maryland last year, Antoine Brooks had a mostly quiet rookie year, which involved spending a lot of time on the practice squad. Yet the way Steelers coaches have been talking about him during mandatory minicamp, one gets the sense he has at least a puncher’s chance of being the team’s starting slot defender.

Of course, teams are always looking for players to make a second-year jump, and already the Steelers anticipate having three second-year players in the starting lineup in Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, and Kevin Dotson—not bad for a draft class devoid of a first-round pick.

But perhaps Brooks is a dark horse to be a fourth starter from the 2020 class. Certainly he doesn’t appear to be the favorite. James Pierre—also a second-year player, but having gone undrafted—has been getting even more attention. But there is a lot of practice between now and the start of the season.

Brooks is the sort of player whom you know can make his presence felt in the preseason. I think if he can show that he has some coverage chops, he can really put himself in the conversation. Especially if Pierre struggles to hold up against the run, or they decide that they want to keep Cameron Sutton outside.

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