With the offseason news that long-term starter KJ Wright signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle has entirely handed the reins over to their first-round pick Jordyn Brooks. It’s a lot to ask, as not only will he be expected to live up to his status as a high pick, but also to fill the shoes of one of the best to do it in a Seahawk uniform. The results from his rookie season were a mixed bag, starting six games, playing in 14, and recording 57 tackles (2 for a loss) plus two passes defended. While he played a role, it was a small one. He’ll be asked to put up a leading man performance this year and how he holds up is a matter of debate, especially after the first couple of weeks. The unevenness in his performance has led some to wonder if letting Wright walk was the right decision.
The most important aspect of being a linebacker is a proficient tackler, and it was that ability that made Head Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider value him so highly coming out of college. Pro Football Focus graded him in the 91st percentile for run defenders in his class, as his athleticism (4.54 sec 40 yd dash time) and physicality made him a nightmare for teams playing against Texas Tech. He had a nose for the football in old-fashioned terms, regularly shedding blockers and blowing up running backs in the hole. All those traits show up in his limited film as a Seahawks, most notably during week 15 against the Rams last season. He stopped the running back twice in a critical goal-to-go situation, forcing the Rams to kick a field goal and helping ensure a division-clinching victory. Pro Football Focus agreed, giving him an above-average run defense grade in his rookie season. Unfortunately, it seems that ability hasn’t fully come to fruition in his time as a starter in this early 2021 season, most notably in the Seahawks’ most recent loss to the Tennessee Titans, where the Seattle run defense was torn to pieces by Derrick Henry. While a run defense does not make one man, it’s a rough look this early into the season.
On the other side of the coin, Brooks’ pass coverage abilities were why many in the wider NFL media thought that the Seattle front office reached by selecting him in the first round. He spent much more of his time at Texas Tech spying opposing quarterbacks on pass plays or blitzing. When he was asked to cover in space, he was a liability. This continued into his rookie season, as Pro Football Focus ranked him as one of the worst coverage linebackers in the league. This stands in stark contrast to KJ Wright, who was one of the league’s rangiest players. While Brooks is much faster at this stage of his career, all the speed in the world won’t mean a lick if he doesn’t know where he is supposed to be. Being matched with all-world linebacker Bobby Wagner will definitely help put him in that department, but the gap will still be significant.
The results in the opening week of the 2021 season were promising, especially in the pass coverage department. Pro Football Focus gave him a 76.0/100 coverage grade as he racked up six tackles and two passes defended. He played 89% of the snaps on defense, significantly contributing to a defensive effort that held the Indianapolis Colts to 17 points. While certainly a tiny sample size (his poor run defense grade attests to that), week one results were undoubtedly promising. On the flipside, week two was a very poor showing, to the point that Pete Carroll chose to keep him on the sidelines in favor of Cody Barton, who has much better coverage skills. He was limited to six tackles, zero passes defended, and failed to recognize many of the short screen passes and dump-offs that allowed Henry to keep Seattle on its heels. While inconsistency is expected from a young player, you would hope that he wouldn’t have a stretch so rough that required him to ride the pine. Much of this season depends on how Seattle defends, with Brooks representing a young core that is supposed to define the next era of Seahawk football. Their collapse against Tennessee puts a significant dent in those plans.