At the OTAs in early June, coach Mike McCarthy considered the depth at outside linebacker to be “as good as we’ve had there in some time.” Three short months later the Packers are seriously interested in a 33-year-old player who was just released by the lowly 49ers. My, how things have changed. Or have they?
Most people – even the usually clueless – raised an eyebrow when they read that quote from McCarthy. After all, how could the Packers possibly be better at a position where they swapped Julius Peppers and Datone Jones for Kyler Fackrell, Jayrone Elliott, and a day 3 draft pick (Vince Biegel)? The answer is they couldn’t – something McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson finally acknowledged by setting up a visit with Ahmad Brooks.
If Brooks is signed, what would Green Bay be getting? I watched 8 full games from last season to get an answer.
The first thing I noticed about Brooks is how well he still moves. He sure as heck doesn’t look like a player who entered the National Football League when George W. Bush was in the White House. People marveled about Peppers still being a physical freak when he joined the Packers at age 33. Well, Brooks is no slouch when it comes to athleticism. Over and over, I watched him knife through holes to make tackles for losses, or as shown in the video below, chase down speedy running backs 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.
But one play stood out above all the others. In the video below, watch how he covers Seattle tight end Luke Willson (#82), who ran a 4.51 at his pro day and who’s averaged nearly 14 yards per reception over his career. This play made me wish Brooks was a Packer last season since he might’ve been their best corner. But seriously, that’s pretty impressive stuff for any linebacker, let alone one his age and his size (6’3, 260).
As far as rushing the quarterback is concerned, it’s hard to project exactly how Brooks would fare with the Packers. That’s because he would be used differently. In the video below, look at how far from the ball and the line of scrimmage he often lined up with the 49ers. This allowed him to use his speed – and just as importantly an advantageous angle – to easily get around pedestrian right tackle Garry Gilliam (#79) of the Seahawks.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers employs his edge rushers closer to the ball and the line of scrimmage. Brooks was less effective in this more conventional alignment. In the video below, another pedestrian right tackle, Bobby Massie (#70) of the Bears, had little trouble keeping Brooks away from the quarterback.
Since Capers isn’t going to alter his scheme to accommodate one player, the easiest way to put Brooks in the best position to succeed would be to run more games up front. The former Virginia star was very effective on stunts last season. In fact, 3 of his 6 sacks came that way. He has a knack for timing his move just right and enough initial quickness and strength to be a nightmare for interior blockers. Just ask veteran guard Jamon Brown (#68) of the Rams, whom Brooks runs over on the way to quarterback Case Keenum.
In the run game, Brooks clearly has the skill set needed to hold the edge, but he wasn’t consistent enough last season. He seemed preoccupied with making the big play and often found himself out of position. You’d like to think part of the reason was playing on such a bad team and in such a hopeless situation. I’d be surprised if a change of scenery doesn’t make him more reliable against the run – which is exactly what he was a few years ago when the 49ers were winning divisional titles and competing for Super Bowls.
It’s impossible to do a thorough scouting report on this player without mentioning his numerous off-field issues. According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, in 2015, Brooks was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery by the Santa Clara district attorney’s office and that case remains open. In 2013, he wasn’t charged after he allegedly hit then-teammate Lamar Divens in the head three times with a beer bottle. In 2008, he was accused of punching a woman in the face and accepted mediation on the charges. Brooks was also dismissed from the Virginia football team in 2006, abruptly ending his college career.
It’s fair to say this is not the type of person Thompson normally welcomes to Green Bay, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And for what it’s worth, Brooks has never actually been convicted of a crime.
So what’s the final verdict? In my opinion, Brooks is well worth signing. He’s not the player he was three or four years ago, but he’s still an average starter. And that makes him a very good backup – a pair of adjectives that can’t be used to describe Fackrell, Elliott or Reggie Gilbert as of right now. Maybe one of them will step up during the regular season and/or Biegel will finally get healthy and become the force off the edge that he was at the University of Wisconsin, but the Packers can’t count on any of those things happening.
Even with other teams showing serious interest in Brooks, it’s hard to imagine him getting more than $3 million on a 1-year contract. That would seem to be a small price to pay for a team with Super Bowl aspirations and whose injury-prone starting linebackers (Clay Matthews and Nick Perry) are already banged up.
(This week’s Q&A will be posted on Thursday, so send your questions by Wednesday afternoon)