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Antoine Brooks Jr.’s versatility may intrigue NFL teams

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The Terp’s ability to play multiple positions could lead a team to take a chance on him.

Antoine Brooks, Indiana, Maryland football Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

As the 2020 NFL Draft draws closer, Testudo Times will be taking an in-depth look at each Terp prospect. Wes broke down running back Anthony McFarland Jr. on Tuesday, and next up is safety Antoine Brooks Jr.

The Lanham, Maryland, native is a ball-hungry, versatile defender who saw time on the field in all but six games of his college career, including playing a significant role in each of his last three seasons.

The numbers

Height: 5’11
Weight: 220 lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.64 seconds
Vertical Jump: 34.5 inches
Bench Press: 18 reps

What a team is getting

Without a doubt, Brooks’ greatest strength is his versatility on the field. He played three different positions throughout his time in College Park, starting off his career as a linebacker and then taking over at nickel back and safety.

Despite playing mostly as a safety in his senior season, Brooks led the Big Ten with 5.8 solo tackles per game, which ranked ninth in the country. He ranked first on the Terps with 87 tackles and 69 solo tackles in 2019, as well as tied for first with five pass breakups and second with 8.5 tackles for loss, to be named a Second Team All-Big Ten selection.

As a junior, he led all Big Ten linebackers with 27 quarterback pressures. And as a sophomore, he led all Big Ten defensive backs with 9.5 tackles for loss.

Brooks was named the best run-defending safety in the 2020 draft class by Pro Football Focus. When defending the pass, his strength lies in short zone coverage, though he was able to make some key plays from deep in his time as a Terp.

Brooks recorded four interceptions and 13 deflected passes throughout his time as a Terp, and this play against Indiana this past season was especially impressive. While his greater strength is certainly defending the run, Brooks used his athleticism to make a crucial play for Maryland here.

The Hoosiers were in the red zone and looking strike and extend their advantage on the Terps with a new set of downs. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. found a spot in the pocket and attempted a throw to wide receiver Justin Berry, but he couldn’t bring it in for the catch.

Lurking behind, Brooks leapt into the air, bobbled the ball and secured it to give Maryland possession and stop the score. This play shows Brooks’ lethal combination of instinct and athleticism.

Brooks had a total 27.5 tackles for loss through his last three seasons in College Park, including this play against Michigan last year.

The Terp showed how hounding he can be as a defender here. He had his eye on the ball from the before the snap and immediately rushed in to make a play. Brooks out-maneuvered one Wolverine before grabbing the foot of running back Christian Turner to bring him to the ground for a loss of five yards, forcing Michigan into a third-and-15 situation.

As a junior, Brooks showed his athleticism in the passing game with the game-clinching interception against Texas at Fed Ex Field.

On third and 10 with just over a minute left, there was no secret that the Longhorns were going to pass. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger dropped back and was flushed to his right, then overthrew his target who Brooks was lurking behind — resulting in a spectacular interception.

The play above is a prime example of Brooks’ energy on the field. He doesn’t take plays off and will do whatever he can to get to the ball and stop a play in its tracks.

Before Maryland’s game against Ohio State this past season got out of hand, Brooks had a big stop in the red zone in the first quarter.

Brooks spotted running back K.J. Hill in motion across the line of scrimmage instead of falling for the fake and then didn’t hesitate to make a move. He pushed his way past an offensive lineman and directly cut off the hole Hill was looking to run through for the score. Though the Buckeyes scored later on this possession, this was a huge stop.

Draft projections

Most major outlets don’t have Brooks listed as one of the top safeties in the draft, with a concern around his deep coverage and ability keep up with taller and more athletic receivers on the run. But Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox listed the Terp as the most overlooked safety in the draft, praising his “versatility and big-play ability.”

NFL.com gave Brooks a 6.00 prospect ranking, deemed as a “developmental-traits based prospect,” which was the seventh-best out of 24 safeties invited to the NFL Combine.

“He’s a freelancer who lacks the range to play single-high, but his instincts and recognition talent improve his ability to challenge effectively as a split safety,” said NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein. “He’s a well-built banger with solo tackle talent near the line and should be a quality short zone defender. Brooks offers middle-round value as a split-safety capable of box duties and should offer an upgrade on special teams coverage.”

Actual draft projections vary widely for Brooks. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller listed him as the 10th best safety available and had him projected as the last pick of third round in his latest mock draft, while Sporting News and CBS Sports had the Terp going in the sixth round. Several other mock drafts have Brooks selected between the fourth and fifth rounds, so right now it’s quite hard to tell where he might go.

Consensus: Rounds 3-6