Sometimes in life fate helps decide your future. Antoine Brooks Jr. was a 5’ 11” high school quarterback for the Duval Tigers in Lanham, Maryland. There are not a lot of 5’ 11” quarterbacks who are starters on major college or the NFL teams.
Brooks still preferred to play QB even though as a kid growing up he loved to watch safeties. His dad (his namesake) was a high school player who prided himself on his sure tackling abilities. Growing up in Maryland the two used to watch the team from our nation’s capital and in particular the late safety Sean Taylor.
“It’s kind of funny, because he really didn’t know who he [Taylor] was. But he used to get excited when he’d see him play” Brooks Sr. said.
They both remember how excited the younger Brooks got when while watching the Pro Bowl Sean Taylor crushed punter Brian Moorman on a play in 2006. “He got hyped off of that hit,” Brooks Sr. said. “Ever since he was a little kid, he said, ‘Dad, I want to hit like that.”
Yet there was a time, a serious time when Brooks Jr. was contemplating quitting football. He was in a game trying to throw a pass when he took a hit, a vicious hit. He was riding to the hospital in an ambulance with his dad by his side with a compound fracture of his leg and a broken wrist.
“Dad was ready for him to give it up,” Brooks Sr. recalled recently. “He told me, ‘I don’t want to play football no more’ and I was like, ‘OK, good, yes!’ By the time we got to the hospital, he told me he just wanted to play defense. I knew it changed on the ride to the hospital, just that quick.”
From that point on Brooks Jr. would be handing out the punishments instead of absorbing them. After playing mostly on special teams his first season with the Maryland Terrapins he turned into a tackling machine on defense. In his last three years he amassed 232 tackles of which 169 are solo tackles.
“It is not that I don’t need help, but in football, tackling is the most important thing,” he said. “He [my father] was always on me about tackling. He never liked me missing tackles, and if I did, he’d be mad.”
Playing more like a box safety/linebacker role Brooks was able to be a force disrupting offenses from near the line of scrimmage. He had 28 TFLs and 4 sacks which forced teams to change tactics. His coach Mike Locksley explained, “The last two weeks people have tried to spread us out on defense and it’s put ‘Toine outside the hashes to where if the ball’s not coming to that side, he’s probably not as productive, but he’s played as hard and has done a tremendous job with his leadership.”
Teams were wary of Brooks after he tied a career high with 13 tackles (all solo) against Temple early in the season. Maryland began to move Brooks around more to get him into alignments that take advantage of his tackling acumen. “That’s what I like to do,” Brooks said about moving all over the field.
Brooks has earned the trust of his peers and his coaches over time. He is not perfect, but he has a tenacity that is easy to see.
“Antoine is one of those high-energy guys,” Locksley said. “He’ll make some mistakes here and there and take bad angles, but he makes up for it with his effort. He’s the leader over there on that side of the ball. He’s one of those guys that he’s going to give you 110%.”
Brooks played at Maryland which had numerous NFL players in the last few years despite the awful on field record. LB Jermaine Carter was a Carolina Panthers pick in 2018. J.C. Jackson went undrafted despite my touting him as a late round steal in 2019. He is now a Patriot. Darnell Savage was a player who I highlighted in an article last year and was a first round pick of the Green Bay Packers.
Brooks has been there to learn from each one of them.
“I used to be under Jermaine Carter all the time, and he was a workhorse. Never left the weight room, was always watching film. Darnell was always watching film, knowing that he needed to do. JC watched film, but he liked to work out all the time. I had great inspiration. I can’t wait until I try to show what I can handle Sundays if I make it to play on Sundays,” Brooks said.
Brooks is a Jamal Adams type player who is an emotional, fiery leader and a tremendous tackler on the field. Here he is close to the line of scrimmage against Illinois making a play from the backside of the defense.
Brooks is on the weak side of the defense (no TE on that side) so he is free from assignments. He can just read the play. If it’s a pass he can attack the QB or drop back into zone coverage. He reads the handoff quickly on this play so he is off like a shot to run the running back down from behind.
Here he is again close to the line of scrimmage this time to the left side of the defense. He easily avoids the poor blocking attempt by the fullback to sweep in and make a huge TFL. It is easy to see why Brooks is such a sure tackler. It’s because of his technique which is rock solid. This is how you make a sure tackle while not using your helmet as a weapon.
This technique is a variation of “rugby tackling.” You don’t use your head as a part of the tackle like NFL players did a few years ago. The technique is to aim for the hip. You keep your eyes up, head up then wrap up the ball carrier. You have to use your arms. In doing so you put your helmet in front of the ball carrier. Your helmet should hit his belt buckle. You then wrap up the ball carrier while using your lower body to power through him. By keeping your head out in front you can use you entire body weight to bring down the ball carrier.
In rugby the only difference is you keep your head behind the runner because you don’t want to drive your own head into the ground on the tackle. The ball carrier is used as a shield to protect your head from a huge collision with the ground upon the tackle.
In my opinion Brooks has been vastly underestimated as a player because of the team he plays for and his less than ideal height. He is also said to be a poor player in coverage because he lacks long speed again because of his height.
You can be the judge on this play. Again Brooks is lined up on the left side of the defense on the line of scrimmage.
Like I said earlier, teams started running plays away from him. This is just a simple bubble screen to the right that is headed for a TD until Brooks races about 40 yards to catch up, tackle, and strip the ball from the receiver. A wide receiver is untouched racing down the sideline until Brooks runs him down and makes the strip tackle.
His size is definitely a problem if you want him to cover TEs but not as much if he is covering RBs and slot receivers.
We will find out soon enough at the Combine what his speed really is. On tape he doesn’t look slow.
Here he is in straight coverage as a slot defender. Brooks has good quickness and agility, but he doesn’t have what you would call “oily hips.” He can flip his hips, but he does so a little more labored than you would like.
In this coverage Brooks gets lucky because he is flat footed as the receiver approaches, but he makes a quick move to the outside to stay in the hip pocket of the receiver. He has a chance at the pick but comes up short. Brooks keeps his eyes on the QB after the out cut. The hardest thing to teach a defender is often when to look for the ball.
This next clip came against Texas. Brooks is in zone coverage as a deep safety on a 3rd and 10 with just a minute to play in the game and Maryland up by 5. This two deep safety look is something the 49ers should have employed in the Super Bowl on that infamous 3rd and 15 play late in the game.
Since he is in straight zone coverage Brooks is going to move to the same side of the field that the QB moves to. This is a nice acrobatic catch that seals the game for the Terps.
This is another view from the back side.
Brooks shows much better hands on this play. If his speed is sufficient he would make a very nice hybrid linebacker in passing situations. He can cover in the slot, RBs in the flat, or zone coverage to guard against draw plays or screens.
He is even a decent blitzer. He only had 4 sacks, but I saw numerous deflected passes as he made on his way to the QB.
In this last clip Brooks is again in coverage in the slot against a shorter, quicker player, K.J. Hill from Ohio State. You see how Brooks can flip his hips around. He is able to stay with the speedy receiver then undercut the throw. He didn’t intercept the pass, but he did the next best thing.
I think Antoine Brooks Jr. has some limitations as a pro safety, but he can be a major contributor on any team including the Jets. While he is not of preferred size he still can be effective in the right scheme. He is roughly as big as Earl Thomas.
Brooks played extensively on special teams at Maryland so he can step in right away and help the Jets coverage teams.
Much depends on how he does at the Combine. A great showing will move him up Draft boards. With a decent Combine he could stay in day three range.
I believe that Brooks could be a great 3rd down linebacker, a demon on special teams, and a security blanket for Jamal Adams in case of injury.
Antoine Brooks Jr. is a fierce competitor and a team leader. He would be a younger version of Rontez Miles as a late round pick.
If you know my writings you know how much I like quality special teams players. They are hidden gold on an NFL teams.
Brooks will need some time to acclimate himself to a new defense and the NFL, but he can still be a leader on special teams.
Jamal Adams will also love him in the safety room.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?