With a glaring need at free safety and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor and Jimmie Ward still on the board, it seemed like a lock that the Baltimore Ravens would choose a defensive back with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Instead, the Ravens waited until the third round to add a safety but that player is the most intriguing player of Baltimore's entire draft class because of his tremendous upside.
Terrence Brooks was a member of a loaded (and championship-winning) Florida State defense but until the Senior Bowl he had been overshadowed by teammates Timmy Jernigan and Lamarcus Joyner, among others. As a result, he was originally considered a late-round prospect on whom some team would have to take a flier.
Originally recruited as a cornerback, Brooks made the transition to safety in his junior season. He fared well, but his lack of experience at the position was generally viewed as a negative on his resumé.
Instead, Brooks made scouts across the country look back at his game film after impressing at the Senior Bowl and then blowing up the NFL Scouting Combine.
Here’s the scouting report on one of the newest Ravens, breaking down his game using four categories: physical tools, tackling, run support and pass coverage.
This is the most impressive aspect of Brooks’ game, and the biggest reason for him shooting up prospect rankings in the months before the draft.
The former Seminole is the most athletic safety in his class, leading all safeties in the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds), vertical jump (38”) and broad jump (119”). He plays exceptionally fast and demonstrates the tremendous burst and closing speed to make big plays all over the field.
That speed is something that caught the eye of the Ravens' Director of College Scouting, Joe Hortiz:
Brooks is well aware of his blazing speed, singling it out as one of his greatest strengths according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I feel like my game is very fast...When I make a decision, it’s right away and I get there pretty fast. I feel like my acceleration is one of my strong points.
He possesses cornerback speed which gives him tremendous range, but he also packs a powerful punch despite his smaller frame.
At the combine, Brooks measured in at 5’11” and 198 pounds which is smaller than generally desired from the safety position—especially now when tall, strong and long defensive backs are the new fad.
Nevertheless, Brooks uses his muscular frame to play bigger than he’s listed, and he’s also very capable of translating his impressive speed into the power necessary to make huge hits and bring down bigger players. Furthermore, he’s not at as big a disadvantage as you might think in jump-ball situations thanks to his leaping ability.
Physically speaking, Brooks is a very impressive prospect with the speed and range to develop into a menace as an NFL center-fielder by blanketing the deep third of the field.
This is an area where Brooks needs to improve if he’s going to become a good-to-great NFL safety. Oftentimes, he is a fundamentally sound tackler who wraps up and drives through ball-carriers to bring them down.
When he’s in a rush to make a big play, however, he can lose sight of those fundamentals and take overaggressive angles or opt to lunge for a knockout blow. The result in 2013 was some missed tackles—including a number on the goal-line—which hurt his team.
With his speed and instincts, Brooks has a knack for always being around the football, but NFL playmakers have a way of capitalizing on bad angles to make big plays.
Brooks played as both a free safety and strong safety at Florida State, so he has experience coming up into the box and making plays around the line of scrimmage.
Strangely, the missed tackling issues described above generally appeared in coverage and he was a pretty sound tackler in the running game.
More often than not, Brooks did a good job of setting the edge and maintaining his discipline and positioning to make a play on the ball.
He is equally as effective in run support when he’s lined up in deep coverage because of his amazing closing speed. Brooks can get from the deep third of the field to the line of scrimmage in a flash, and he’s a very willing tackler in the run game.
Because of his size and short (relatively speaking) arms, he can get swallowed up by bigger blockers and he doesn’t yet know how to use his hands well to shed those blocks, but he shouldn’t have to do that too frequently in his role with the Ravens.
As Baltimore’s new free safety, this is the most important responsibility that Brooks will handle and he did so very well at Florida State.
When you watch his tape, his agility and fluidity are apparent from the very get-go. He still carries his corner skills and man-coverage abilities to go with quick feet and a very easy backpedal with little wasted motion.
He will be able to come down and cover the slot in the NFL which gives the Ravens a lot of versatility because Matt Elam can do the same thing. That versatility is definitely something that was appealing about Brooks, and his trainer Roy Holmes explained why to Bob Ferrante of Fox Sports:
Terrence is extremely smooth. The way that the game is going now, you're seeing tight ends that are lining up as wide receivers, you're not seeing fullbacks anymore. You're seeing more three- and four-wideout sets. Or you're seeing multiple tight-end sets.
If a team doesn't have to substitute, whether that guy can cover a slot or he can cover a tight end ... He can function in space, that's what the new NFL is looking for. I definitely think Terrence will be one of those guys that fits that mold.
But the majority of his time will probably be spent in deep coverage—frequently as the single-high safety—and that’s another area where Brooks has plenty of experience.
In 2013, he routinely displayed great instincts, an ability to read quarterbacks’ eyes and that devastating closing speed which allowed him to bait QBs into making passes before rapidly closing the throwing window and making a play on the ball.
As a result, Brooks puts himself in position to create turnovers, but he needs to improve his ball skills as he dropped too many easy interceptions. In a vacuum, that statement makes it seem that Brooks is a lost cause in that regard because hands are frequently a natural skill—either you have them or you don’t.
For Brooks, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case because he makes a number of very challenging interceptions look easy like this remarkable play against North Carolina State:
It seems like Brooks loses focus when he can see the chance at an interception unfolding, which causes him not to look the ball into his hands—much like he does when he gets the opportunity to size up a ball-carrier in the open field and then overpursues the play because he’s so focused on making a big hit.
The good news is that his positioning and reads are already good with plenty of room to grow considering that his days as a safety are in their infancy. He rarely gets truly beaten in coverage or blows an assignment which bodes well for his potential to start or play a big role in his rookie season.
What makes Brooks so intriguing? If he can put it all together he can definitely be the best safety to come out of this class—even better than highly touted prospects like Clinton-Dix, Pryor and Ward.
In Baltimore, Brooks will be matched up with Matt Elam and the duo gives the Ravens a terrifyingly fast (albeit a relatively small) safety tandem with the strength to lay the wood over the middle and come up to support the run.
What’s more, both those safeties are good in coverage and can come up and cover in the slot. You have to like the potential versatility of the Baltimore secondary.
Brooks seems like a true Raven thanks to his physical style of play, and that’s something he is excited about, based on what he told Garrett Downing of the team's official website:
A lot of teams needed safeties this year and they just kept passing me up. I knew one of them was going to bite and I’m glad it’s the Ravens. I’ve already got Timmy [Jernigan, Florida St. teammate] there and I love that team just from how physical they are. That’s how I play that game, so physical and mean.
Brooks largely flew under the radar in the predraft process but many, such as B/R’s own Matt Miller and Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, feel that he will contribute from Day 1:
Time will tell if he’s ready to play in 2014, but at the very least he will be a core special teamer—Assistant GM Eric DeCosta told Downing that Baltimore rated Brooks as one of the five best special-teamers in the draft—and a rotational piece in the secondary.
If he’s ready to go right away? It gives the Ravens a very fast and dynamic secondary and fills the gaping void that Ed Reed left when he departed.
Brooks has all the tools to be a dominant safety, and whether or not he can put them all together will determine how good this draft class—in the “deepest draft in recent memory”—will be.
Note: All combine measurements and results are courtesy of the official NFL.com combine page
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter:
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