2020 Draft: Steelers late rounders have limited upside

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 26: Antoine Brooks Jr. #25 of the Maryland Terrapins defends against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCFBank Stadium on October 26, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 26: Antoine Brooks Jr. #25 of the Maryland Terrapins defends against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCFBank Stadium on October 26, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images) /

At the tail end of the draft, the Steelers added two defenders who likely have limited starting potential for a variety of reasons

The Steelers finished off their draft with a pair of defenders that they hope to develop. At pick 198 they nabbed S/LB Antoine Brooks out of Maryland and at 232 they grabbed NT Carlos Davis from Nebraska.

Looking first at Brooks, he was a highly productive player on a terrible Terps team. Overall, he compiled 231 tackles, 27.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 4 INTs, as well as having 87/8.5/0/1 in his final season. The production in an accredited school is obvious, but there are still some issues he will need to work out in the pros.

For starters, he is a tweener and has no set position in the NFL. While he mostly played safety at Maryland, he has the size (and frankly, the skillset) to move down to ILB. The problem there is he is only 5’10, making him a little short for a traditional ILB. The Steelers have a chess piece, let’s just hope they know how to use him.

Starting with his pros, Brooks has great vision when playing the run. He is a classic “see the ballcarrier, get the ballcarrier” type that once he locks in on you, he won’t stop pursuing until the play is over. This led to him being one of the most stable and consistent players on Maryland’s roster the past few years. His ability to stop the run is his strongest suit entering the NFL.

While he did play deep in college, he thrived closer to the line of scrimmage. At the pro level, the Steelers would be making a big mistake trying to play him deep at either S spots. That isn’t his game. What he does well is play close to the line, sift through blockers, and securely tackle the player with the football.

His biggest weakness is his coverage ability. In man coverage, he is a bit of a train wreck. He doesn’t have the athleticism to stay with a WR deep nor does he have the instincts or timing in coverage to be a ballhawk. He thrives in a shorter zone (again, close to the line of scrimmage) as he can rely on his vision to make more plays. Deep zone is an issue as well for him, again aiding to the argument he should convert to LB.

If he is to stay at S, he has below-average athleticism for the role. His 4.64 40 time isn’t impressive, and his tape shows he lacks burst and lateral agility to play as a true deep defender. While he worked out as a DB at the college level, it looks like a position he would struggle with at the NFL level.

All in all, Brooks is an intriguing hybrid option for the Steelers defense. His role first off will be finding a home on special teams, something he should excel at. He can also be a candidate to play dime backer in sub-packages. As he develops, a more permanent move to LB may be in the cards. He seems like a poor-mans Deone Bucannon and I think his upside is becoming a constant player in dime packages. No matter what, he should find a role on special teams.

LINCOLN, NE – NOVEMBER 17: Defensive lineman Carlos Davis #96 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers cheers a missed field goal as holder Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans looks on in the first half at Memorial Stadium on November 17, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images) /

Carlos Davis

Looking at Davis, the Steeler’s final pick, he profiles as a run-stopping option at the next level. There was some minor hype around him after the 313 pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds. That said, an NT needs a lot more than straight-line speed to succeed at the pro level.

During his four-year stint as a Cornhusker (arguably the greatest college mascot), Davis amassed 125 tackles, 14 TFLs, and 9.5 sacks. In 2019, he posted a stat line of 32/4.5/4, not bad considering his position. With the athletic traits and decent stats, Davis seems like a prospect with some upside.

Digging into his tape, Davis doesn’t have a clear best trait. He flashes decent strength on tape as well as being a decent penetrator in the run game. During the beginning of games, he plays with a lot of ferocity and power.

The issue lies in that he seems to lose that power as the game wears him down. More often than not, his end game tape is horrible compared to his early game tape. Part of this is due to conditioning, which will make or break him once training camp starts. Assuming he can get his stamina up a little, he could become more of a threat on the DL.

Davis offers next to nothing as a pass rusher. A play a little too tall when trying to get after the QB, causing him to lose leverage. As well, he has a limited pass-rushing plan, aiding to his deficiencies in that area. While some of this can be improved upon, it seems unlikely he will ever be the pass rusher Javon Hargrave was.

Overall, Davis is a middling prospect with some developmental upside. Considering a natural NT will only play around 30 percent of the snaps on defense, they don’t need a huge playmaker there. He needs to put on a little weight, work on his conditioning, and refine his ability to plug the run. Assuming he can do that, it isn’t unthinkable that he could be a starter in that limited role. That is likely 2-3 years off though. Expect to see a lot of Daniel McCullers this season.

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While both of these options have some upside, each has a long way before contributing on defense. Brooks should see the field early on special teams while Davis seems fit to take a year on the practice squad to improve his basic skills. Not bad for late rounders and it’ss be interesting to see how they develop.