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Film Room: Antoine Brooks Jr. will be your new favorite Steeler, Part 1: Run Defense

The best highlights you’ll see of the Steelers rookie class come from their 6th round pick.

Maryland v Minnesota Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

With the 198th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected my immediate favorite for the Isaac Redman award, the man with the highlight film to inspire every Greg Lloyd and Troy Polamalu fan in Steeler Nation, Antoine Brooks Jr.

Go ahead, tell me about 6th round picks, their chances of ever making the team, their chances of being meaningful contributors, I know all of it. There’s a reason players fall to the 6th round, and there are reasons Antoine Brooks Jr. fell to the 6th round. But set that aside for a minute, and let’s watch some film.

(This is going to be a serious film room, but really, if you can get through this article without being pumped up I’ll have to question why you like football.)

Antoine Brooks Jr. eats running backs for breakfast.

Antoine Brooks Jr. (#25) is just outside the box to the bottom of the screen.

Brooks anticipates the play, gets into the backfield quick enough that the RB can’t follow his blocker, and then finishes the play for one of his 27.5 tackles for a loss in 36 games as a starter.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen.

Miles Sanders takes one step with the ball, and it was his last. For this play at least. Brooks gets another RB before he can even get going.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the bottom of the screen.

And another one. This time the RB can’t even get a step forward before a human missile separates him from the ball.

I wanted to show several of these plays, because they happened a lot. Remember the spot he is playing here, half LB, half Safety. A lot of college teams use these positions that are a LB/S hybrid and all about attacking, Antoine Brooks Jr. didn’t always play that role, but he was phenomenal in it when he did, especially against the run.

Stay inside the box, Antoine Brooks Jr. is outside.

You can’t defend every run play by just tackling the RB at the hand-off, it isn’t very sportsmanlike.

Antoine Brooks Jr. comes up to the line on this play, like a 5th lineman to the bottom of the screen.

So everyone saw what happens when you leave Brooks unblocked, but lead blockers didn’t help much either. Here the blocker is easily dodged and the RB is toast. Notice where Brooks lines up on this play. He frequently lined up on the edge, where he destroyed outside runs, rushed the passer as well as covering RBs or TEs in the passing game.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen, backing up as the play starts.

Here Brooks is in zone coverage, but as soon as he sees the RB decide to take the run outside he flies to the ball for another TFL.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is a few steps behind and outside the LBs, on the 31 yard line to the top of the screen.

This is more of a Strong Safety alignment to start the play, and he’s clearly in coverage. This off-tackle run is really well blocked, except they double the LB and don’t get a body on Brooks, and an otherwise really well blocked run gains 2 yards. One thing Brooks cannot be called is indecisive, he reads the play pretty quickly and flies to the ball. His first step to the hole is hard and he is flying, and it is half a step after the RB sees the lane.

Antoine Brooks Jr. doesn’t care about your blockers.

Fullbacks, Tight Ends and Offensive Lineman are people too, and their feelings matter, just not to Antoine Brooks Jr.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

The TE/H-back is unable to block Brooks, and the RB has nowhere to go. Brooks takes a big step up field, plants that foot and cuts inside, crashing into the inside shoulder of his blocker. He is able to cross the blockers face without getting driven forward and disengage to make the play.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is standing up, on the line, outside the DE, to the top of the screen.

This is fantastic run defense. Brooks controls the TE’s block, moving the TE into the line to seal off any inside hole, while giving himself the outside leverage to make the tackle. The body control Brooks shows, and how quickly he goes from controlling the block to making the tackle is impressive. He’s a natural football player.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

Brooks hits the pulling guard on the inside shoulder, sheds and gets in on the tackle, taking the RB off his feet to prevent any second effort nonsense.

There are a number of times you see Antoine Brooks Jr. end up taking on a pulling lineman, and while he obviously wasn’t winning all of them when he’s giving up a hundred pounds, he won a lot more than you would expect. We’ll see more of him beating OL blocks in pass rush in part 2 of this film room.

Wherever you find him, Antoine Brooks Jr. is a problem.

Here’s some other plays where Brooks is either lined up in a different spot, or the offense is doing something different. The results are still predictable when you run at #25.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up inside, with him and #33 standing up in the A gaps. Brooks is to the top of the screen, his first step will be backwards.

Antoine Brooks Jr. was a MLB in high school, and it shows here. He follows the lead blocker outside, and is able to start engaging with the block while keeping his focus on the RB, and is able to get back and hold the run to 2 yards.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up at safety, behind the line close to the middle of the play.

Brooks again shows MLB instincts, following the run easily before cutting down the runner in the hole for minimal gain.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

Dwayne Haskins decides to keep the ball on this option, and it looks like the right move, as Brooks is gunning for the RB and in position to make the play, but he is also able to cut sideways and make the tackle on Haskins. Brooks’ read and react speed is a legit weapon.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

Here Michigan initially fools Brooks with the option, but even though Brooks is inside the blocker and the QB goes outside Brooks gets off the block and runs the play down for a loss.

Bonus Clips: Special Teams

Special Teams are incredibly hard to judge on broadcast angles, as most of the play can’t even be seen. And the ones you can find the player generally just involve being able to see they were there, and not what they actually did.

Brooks played ST a good deal, kick returns and FG units he was a staple.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, second from the top of the screen.

Brooks was in this role, dropping back to defend fakes most of the time. This play his team mates get the block, and you can see him start to celebrate before he sees the live ball in play. A quick scoop and a stiff arm and he’s got a TD.

Antoine Brooks Jr. wasn’t a consistent member of the punt team, but I had to include this play. Brooks is lined up outside to the left, in front of the three man wall protecting the punt.

You can see him shove a rusher outside before heading out to cover the punt, then you see him run in at the end.

How about a better look at the end of that play. Apologies to any fans or family members of Donovan Peoples-Jones.

This is incredible. Brooks sees #23 coming in hard and high, and ducks under him to set up a nasty collision with the returner.

Does this play say much about his ability on special teams, nope. But it is awesome. If he can replicate this play in an AFC North contest the draft pick would be worth it for that alone.

The takeaway

Antoine Brooks Jr. was a devastating force against the run. You could see games, like the Ohio State game in 2018, where the other team just started running away from Brooks and hoping he didn’t jack up the play from the backside. He didn’t always get the best of blockers, but he did it enough to make teams respect it.

If Antoine Brooks Jr. was 6’2”, 230 lbs he’d have gone in the first two rounds and we’d be comparing him to Greg Lloyd. Instead he’s 5’10”, 220 lbs and he’s a 6th round safety. And that’s what his film shows, he’s a LB in a DB’s body.

One of the relevant negatives to this part of the film room include the frequent times he left the game for a short while do to injury. He did not miss games, but he would miss time. His style of play is going to be hard on him, and he already has 36 games of that kind of wear. His other negative I want to cover here is the tackles he misses because of his style. I’m okay with players missing a tackle when they still disrupt the play, because as long as someone else is winning their job on defense, the play is probably a win, and you see that a number of times where he flies into the backfield but isn’t able to finish the RB. Not as many as I expected to find though.

In part 2 we’ll look at Antoine Brooks Jr. in coverage and rushing the passer, and I’ll give my thoughts on his role with the team.