Analysis: Did Seahawks Reach Selecting LB Jordyn Brooks at No. 27 Overall?

Matty F. Brown

This is the fifth article in a five-part Jordyn Brooks film breakdown:

I get it. We’ve been through all of Brooks’ tape and profile. The 22-year old’s looking like a talented player. However, you’ve still got that nagging idea in the back of your mind that the linebacker would have been there in the second or third round. After all, this matches the opinions of draft media.

Every year, The Athletic’s Arif Hasan collects the player rankings of draft media to produce a "consensus big board." In Hasan’s own words, the CBB produces an “aggregate ranking of those players.” Brooks finished as the 84th-best prospect - a third round pick. He was the seventh-ranked linebacker.

In comparison, LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, a name who received far more buzz in the process, placed No. 19 on Hasan's CBB. Queen and Brooks will forever be compared, as Queen was taken the pick after Seattle’s first-rounder by the Ravens at No. 28 overall. The selection amplified the sense that Brooks was another dreaded Seahawks’ reach. Queen was 65 spots higher than Brooks in the rankings per the media consensus!

And yet the NFL clearly disagreed with the draft pundits. Building up to the draft, around-the-league chatter buzzed towards Brooks as a first-rounder. After the event, it was immediately rumored that the Ravens themselves wanted Brooks and were forced to settle for Queen. More concrete evidence of Brooks being regarded higher by the league arrived from Geoff Hobson reported that Cincinnati was going to take Brooks at No. 33 and they were disappointed with the shocking decision from Seattle.

If the Seahawks hadn’t picked Brooks, he was getting taken soon. Brooks’ reaction matched this.

“I was a little bit surprised it was the Seahawks, I wasn’t surprised that it was the first round,” disclosed Brooks in his first Seattle media appearance. “I hadn’t talked to them [the Seahawks] since the combine.”

In the NFL evaluation landscape Brooks wasn’t a reach. After watching him, I was left wondering how he fell as far as No. 27. This can be explained by a lack of testing, his injury history, him being unable to practice at the Senior Bowl, and his lack of coverage reps. Still, Brooks can be an all-around linebacker - Queen, on the other hand, would have strictly been a WILL linebacker in Seattle.

Talking on his post-draft radio hits, Seahawks’ general manager John Schneider was keen to emphasize how special the trio of 2020 first-round linebackers - Kenneth Murray (No. 23 to the Chargers), Brooks, and Queen - are.

“All three of them are incredible players.” (Danny and Gallant, 710 ESPN Seattle)

“These guys are too special.” (Danny and Gallant, 710 ESPN Seattle)

“I think that you’ll see Murray, Queen, Brooks, be really outstanding players for a number of years.” (Danny and Gallant, 710 ESPN Seattle)

“All three of these guys could be culture changers.” (Danny and Gallant, 710 ESPN Seattle)

“It was a decision of if one of those linebackers is still there; we’re not going to back out.” (Danny and Gallant, 710 ESPN Seattle)

“We basically had a wall where we were kinda like ‘look, we’re not gonna leave if one of these guys is here, so.” (Softy and Dick, 950 KJR)

The difference between the post-round one press conference of 2019 and the same presser of 2020 is stark. Last year was a deeply miserable affair, with mournful stunned faces. Players the Seahawks wanted flew off the board and they took L.J. Collier, at the bottom of the ledge. By contrast, in 2020, Pete Carroll and Schneider looked delighted.

Yes, the Seahawks were trying to execute their trademark move back to gain more picks. They had a deal in place with the Packers to move back to No. 30.

“I was speaking with Brian Gutekunst [Green Bay GM],” Schneider disclosed post-day one. “He was cool, he was like ‘hey sorry man we got a better deal’ and then all of the sudden, they were on the clock. It happens.”

The Packers ended up moving up one spot ahead of the Seahawks, trading No. 30 and a fourth rounder to the Dolphins - perhaps Seattle wanted a third round selection or another day three pick added to the deal? Speculation aside, we’ve already seen that Brooks may not have been available four picks later. There is a more important point here: It’s refreshing that Seattle stuck on their initial pick, forced or not, and ended up with a fabulous football player. It wasn’t a bad selection generated by panic. They didn’t miss out on their best player available.

“Jordyn was a guy that fit us the best and we had the most buy-in from everybody, so we were extremely excited to get him,” Schneider informed Danny and Gallant on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Whether Seattle actually needed Brooks is a complicated topic. The linebacker’s effortless movement skills and nose for the ball do give him a crazy high ceiling.

“We just found a guy that really could check all the boxes,” Carroll summarized post-draft.

However, with Seattle initially wanting to move back in the draft, to what extent was the pick an ill-afforded luxury? Could Seattle have added a more obvious need? Sure. Left tackle Duane Brown is running up serious miles at 34 years old and there is no obvious successor. That said, the absolute certainty the front office had in Brooks’ ability, backed up in this evaluative study, should remove some fears. This isn’t a Rashaad Penny-style reach and overreaction.

Furthermore, Seattle still addressed their most obvious deficiency: pass rusher. They managed to get an upper tier quarterback hunter in the second round, moving up to take "their guy" in Darrell Taylor. Taylor was their highest-ranked EDGE available and the Seahawks were “sweating it out.” Later on, they added Alton Robinson too.

We can get into positional value and whether linebackers matter - they are certainly more relevant in Seattle. To help us with this, Pro Football Focus developed a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric. It looks to determine the value of each position by measuring how negatively a team would be impacted if a certain player was lost. PFF made the average of the top 10 players at each position in the NFL from 2019 available to the public:

The difference between offensive tackles, EDGE defenders, and linebackers is negligible. Besides, Brooks can ball. He was in the highest level of linebackers in the 2020 draft and has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. If Seattle has indeed found an elite player at No. 27 in the draft, then that’s a damn good job.

“He’s going to be an extraordinary football player for us,” Carroll declared of Brooks in his June offseason media appearance.

When was the last time Carroll was this openly confident and complimentary about a rookie draft pick? Brooks’ talent has introduced a new level of assuredness from the Seahawks’ coach.

The first-round pick does make the linebacker room crowded. The main reason for the intense surprise was there was already bountiful second-level talent in the Pacific Northwest. Like with Schneider’s approach to the tight end group, the general manager has put a ton of bodies at the linebacker positions. Always compete baby!

The situation report follows.

Bobby Wagner is an absolute cert to start at middle linebacker for this season at the very least. Last year’s weakside linebacker, K.J. Wright, was the best linebacker in 2019 and remains a Seahawk after some theorized he would be cut for cap savings. Cody Barton is entering his second-year after playing some strongside linebacker before looking better at weakside. Bruce Irvin was added for $8 million in free agency and Carroll has said he’ll start at SAM before kicking down to the LEO defensive end spot in passing situations. Finally, I wish good luck to Ben Burr-Kirven and Shaquem Griffin -their hopes of making the roster should be based on special teams contributions.

The simple math says that only three linebackers are getting onto the field at one time - okay, maybe four if Irvin or Griffin are playing defensive end. The Brooks selection signified that the 2019 days of base defense being 4-3 personnel are going to continue - Seattle ran base 4-3 67 percent of the time in 2019 per Sports Info Solutions.

It’s troubling that the Seahawks failed to add noteworthy 2020 nickel competition to a slow 3-cone Ugo Amadi, who as a rookie got beat out by a terrible, aging Jamar Taylor and then struggled when he saw limited slot action. D.J. Reed, claimed off waivers from the 49ers, may eventually be able to compete in the last few games of the season after he comes back from his torn pectoral injury. This delay in true competition is underwhelming.

Meanwhile, the positives and negatives of this three-linebacker approach is a whole separate article. Looking at the Seahawks’ division, it features an offense that went to the Super Bowl running base-necessary personnel 59 percent of the time according to Warren Sharp. The San Francisco 49ers came out in 21 personnel for 28 percent of snaps, 12 personnel for 19 percent of snaps, and 22 personnel for 11 percent of snaps.

Let’s start with the worst case scenario regarding Brooks. Say the rookie - impacted by COVID-19 delaying preparations - essentially redshirts the 2020 season. If this is what happens, it’s not nearly as terrible as you might think. The overkill feel to the Brooks pick lessens when we look ahead to 2021. It can be an example of the front office planning ahead for a season that is very unlikely to feature Wright on the roster. The 2021 linebacker trio is most likely to be Wagner, Barton, and Brooks. Ultimately, Brooks is Wright's successor. The duo of Brooks and Barton could also help Wagner, who had out-of-character, slow games in 2020 and appears to have entered the "knee clean-up" portion of his career.

SAM linebacker looked to be a potential 2020 internship for Brooks, especially with 2019 starter Mychal Kendricks no longer on the team. This likelihood has now diminished with the cancellation of a preseason and a bizarre, pandemic-impacted training camp. The opportunity for Seattle to “figure out how to fit him in best,” as Carroll hoped post-draft, has shrunk.

“We’re gonna give this guy a chance to see where he can fit in,” Carroll assessed way back in April. “We’ll work the competition so that we can uncover exactly what’s best and really think that he’s got a chance to be fighting for playing time right away.”

Fast-forward to Carroll’s pre-training camp press conference, and the coach had shifted the focus of his Brooks expectations to weakside linebacker.

“I think his clearest path it might, the most obvious path would be at the WILL ‘backer spot,” Carroll revealed. “We’ll see how that goes; we’ll start him there and see how fast he can grasp it, and how soon he can become comfortable. And we’ll see.”

This can be interpreted as Carroll managing expectations for Brooks. The rookie can begin as a backup to Wright with Seattle exercising caution, double and triple-checking that Brooks can execute all of the defensive checks and thrive in the defensive families. Essentially, the redshirt year happens if Brooks doesn’t look ready.

“Football’s the deal for this guy.” Schneider assessed following the pick, clearly expecting Brooks to handle the tricky situation well.

If Brooks does look the part in camp, it could result in Wright moving to SAM linebacker, generating a battle to the figurative death between Brooks and Barton at WILL. Both Wright and Brooks are big time flexible. (Tinfoil hat time... Wright is being touted for trade for cap savings or considering retirement.)

“He could play all three spots at linebacker,” Carroll said of Brooks prior to training camp.

As the giant position battle of camp finally gets underway, we will start to get some answers. We’ll also hopefully witness Brooks’ job-taking potential. The live-streamed scrimmages at CenturyLink Field, on August 22nd and 26th, will be critical. 

“The competition will settle it; I’m not concerned about it at all. The competition will tell us what we need to do here, because the options are all there for us.” Carroll said in his pre-training camp press conference in regard to the linebacker group.

The eventual dream for Brooks’ game is weakside linebacker in Seattle, where he can receive every kind of run fit, work mainly from off-ball, plus do a bit of inside and outside work.

Schneider agreed with this thought in his Softy and Dick April segment, saying, “You know that may be his best fit is playing inside, maybe like WILL linebacker.”

Carroll pointed out that, in Ken Norton’s 2019 defense, the overlap between weakside and strongside linebacker was more similar than previous years, which should help Brooks get acclimated faster.

“The WILL and the SAM ‘backer, if you watch our film last year, they are inside and outside, coming off the edge, playing behind the line of scrimmage, they really have to do all of it,” Carroll disclosed following day one of the draft.

Really, though, Brooks’ fit in Seattle and schematic fit in general can be over-thought. 

“Where you play him and all that, I think, just in general, when you look at our division – team speed – we’ll figure it out,” concluded Schneider.

Brooks is the complete package at linebacker - like getting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then frying it, in bacon fat.

“It’s not fair to Jordyn to compare him to the best MIKE linebacker in the NFL in my opinion in Bobby [Wagner],” Texas Tech coach Matt Wells told 710 ESPN Seattle host John Clayton. But you can certainly say that they have some similar physical playing ability and characteristics and I think that’s pretty accurate.”

Comparisons are indeed unfair. They create unfair expectations of a prospect, they warp the lens one views the prospect through, and they further corrupt one’s memory of a prospect until certain things become unrecognizable.

The above is why I’m waiting until the end of this five-part series, after you’ve watched the Brooks tape and read all of my analysis, to insert that my friend @cmikesspinmove compared Brooks to Bobby Wagner, Navarro Bowman, and Fred Warner. I loathe comps and it speaks volumes that I’m choosing to include this in my article. Brooks is a baller and he should be a blast to watch grow in Seattle's system.