Factoring in fit, talent and value, Florida State's Terrence Brooks could be the perfect antidote for what still ails the Green Bay Packers at safety.
A true center fielder type with previous experience at cornerback, Brooks is the rangy, smart and athletic player Green Bay needs to take over at free safety alongside Morgan Burnett. Best yet, the Packers might have a real chance of drafting him with their pick in the second round, freeing up the first round to address other needs.
General manager Ted Thompson has all but locked himself into taking one of the top safeties in the 2014 NFL draft.
After a year in which few teams got worse play from the position, the Packers sat on their hands in free agency—letting 17-game starter M.D. Jennings sign in Chicago and acquiring not one of the available safeties. Impressive young cornerback Micah Hyde may play some snaps at safety next season, but Green Bay will almost certainly enter the draft with only three pure players at the position: Burnett, Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo.
Unlike last April, when the Packers somewhat surprisingly did not take a safety, at least one new player at the position is expected to arrive in May's draft. Thompson can't afford to repeat the mistake he made last season, when the decision to bank on Jennings and Jerron McMillian backfired. Neither player remains on the roster.
Brooks represents one of many potential upgrades, depending on your flavor of safety and when you believe the Packers should address the position.
Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward are first-round options, while Brooks and Washington State's Deone Bucannon will most likely land in the second. Mid-tier players include USC's Dion Bailey, Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler, North Carolina's Tre Boston, Stanford's Ed Reynolds, Baylor's Ahmad Dixon and Minnesota's Brock Vereen.
Brooks might be the best fit of the bunch, given his talent as a roaming free safety and the value of potentially getting him in the second round. Below, we outline why.
Playing center field in a one-deep safety look requires range or the ability to cover sideline to sideline in the back half. Former Packers safety Nick Collins possessed great range, which allowed Dom Capers to be aggressive in his various coverages.
Florida State lined up Brooks in one-high looks often. And while not as impressively athletic as Collins, the Seminoles safety showed off his incredible range on several occasions.
Here is one example from last year's win over N.C. State:
Brooks moves into the center of the field at the snap. He quickly reads the quarterback's eyes and shoulders and jumps on the attempted deep ball, which is lofted toward the left sidelines. The throw is relatively poor under pressure, and Brooks uses his 4.4 40-yard-dash speed to range from center field to the sideline and make the diving interception in front of the receiver.
Below is another example against Tom Savage and Pitt:
Brooks isn't seen on camera at the snap, but we can safely assume he's tasked with covering his deep half. Both safeties are playing 15-plus yards off the ball, likely in a Cover 2 shell given how the cornerbacks react at the snap.
Savage attempts to hit the deep out, a route that should be a perfect call against this particular defense. It should open up the receiver behind the corner's underneath coverage and in front of the safety for a relatively easy throw. But not against Brooks' range.
Savage deals with some late pressure and releases a somewhat weak throw to the boundary. Brooks breaks on the ball and nearly has an interception, but he successfully breaks up the play in front of the receiver.
The lack of an All-22 angle prevents a good look at how Brooks attacks the throw. But again, given the result, we can somewhat safely assume he recognized the route combination early and attacked without a second's hesitation.
If the Packers do draft Brooks, it will be for his talents as a free safety. This role doesn't always ask the player to perform near the line of scrimmage, especially given Burnett's ability to play down in the box. But the Packers do interchange their safeties often, which will require any eventual draft pick to have skills within a few yards of the line.
Despite weighing only 198 pounds, Brooks does show the necessary physicality to support against the run and make plays in the underneath portion of the field.
Here against Syracuse, Brooks ranges up and makes an impressive stop behind the line:
The run is a power-pull play from the pistol formation. The edge initially looks clean for the running back, but Brooks shakes a block attempt at the second level and fills the hole in a flash. The back attempts to go wide, but Brooks lassoes down the ball-carrier with a quality-form tackle.
The Syracuse running back is obviously a far cry from Adrian Peterson. But how many times last season did a running back get wide and around the safety to the edge against the Packers defense? Brooks looks ready and able to help in this area of run support.
Below is an example of Brooks playing in the box at the snap:
Florida runs a jet sweep with a blocker in front, right at Brooks. A lesser-quality defender in this situation would likely overcommit one way or another, allowing the edge or a cutback lane. Not Brooks. He takes on the blocker, sheds the engagement and stays square to the runner. As the Florida receiver attempts to get wide, Brooks closes in and brings him down for a three-yard loss.
The light bulb really seemed to come on for Brooks as a senior. After registering just 1.5 tackles for loss during his first three seasons, he finished his senior year with a career-high eight. He will still miss a few tackles when he comes in slightly out of control, but attacking downhill slowly became one of his strengths.
Possibly no skill has more importance in the next Packers safety than playmaking. Amazingly, Green Bay went 17 full games in 2013 without a safety providing an interception or a forced fumble. The stunning lack of big plays from an important turnover position killed the Packers' takeaway-happy defense.
Brooks produced five interceptions and three forced fumbles during his collegiate career. Those aren't great numbers on the surface, but his tape shows a player consistently in position to make turnover plays.
Against N.C. State, Brooks again attacks a jet sweep and forces a fumble:
The Seminoles safety does everything right. He diagnoses the play and stays square with the line of scrimmage as he aggressively attacks downhill. Another perfect-form tackle puts Brooks' helmet right on the football, and a fumble is forced that eventually finds its way to a member of the Florida State defense.
You want interceptions? Here's one of his better picks from his senior season:
The Florida State defense turns the slot receiver loose up the seam. Brooks is sound in his technique; he gets into his backpedal and then effortlessly accelerates after planting and breaking on the throw. Savage's throw is a little inside, but Brooks is making this interception regardless of the placement.
Anticipation and the absence of hesitation essentially made this turnover play. Both were big problems for the Packers safeties last season.
Brooks really should have had another pick of Savage here:
He does everything right but complete the interception. Brooks baits the third-down throw and correctly reads the quarterback's eyes, breaking immediately once Savage releases toward the end zone. He leaps as the ball arrives but drops the easy pick. It's an ugly end to an otherwise perfectly done sequence.
The Packers won't like any dropped interceptions, but it's a problem they'll take on after a season in which their safeties rarely put themselves in position to make a play on the ball. Brooks at least gave himself a chance at making the turnover.
The Packers will have several options in play to fix their obvious personnel issues at safety. Who they select will depend largely on what kind of player they are looking for at the position, but Brooks fits their traditional safety mold of a lean athlete with impressive timed speeds.
It might be a risk to gamble on Brooks making it to No. 53 overall. But bypassing safety in the first round—instead getting an inside linebacker such as C.J. Mosley or Ryan Shazier at No. 21—and then drafting Brooks sometime in the second would be a great start to an important draft for Thompson and the Packers.
Brooks looks like a natural fit for Green Bay's need at safety. The potential value of getting a talented answer to the roster's biggest weakness in the second round might make him the Packers' most attractive safety option in the 2014 draft.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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