Film Breakdown: Seahawks LB Jordyn Brooks Has Elite Fundamentals

Matty F. Brown

This is part four in a five-part Jordyn Brooks film breakdown:

Seahawks first round pick Jordyn Brooks makes the difficult plays look deceptively easy. Whether the linebacker is in pass coverage, blitzing, or stopping the run, accomplished fundamentals blend with gifted athleticism and desirable intangibles to make one heck of a football player. Pass, run, blitz? The plays are all driven by the 22-year old’s core abilities. It's these which make it clear Seattle snagged an elite prospect.

There are two fundamentals to successful defensive football, a duo of essential scenarios that each defender must win on any given play. A bad defense will fail in these areas. Fortunately, Brooks succeeds in both vitals: he can deal with blocks and he can tackle.

Conversely, the best offenses block well, whether that’s an offensive lineman mauling to the second-level in the run game or a wide receiver hustling down field to block a defensive back and maximize the yards after catch. Brooks, though, is a difficult proposition for even the top attacks.

Blockers will arrive at Brooks, ready to tell their friends, family, and social media about their grand accomplishment of blocking the great linebacker, a man they’ve heard all about in team meetings and studied hard. Yet they miss. Attempting to stick to Brooks is as slippery as trying to nail jello to a wall. Opponents have a block, then they don’t.

Brooks is a masterful dipper and slipper, brilliantly using crafty footwork to create bemused grasps of thin air. Brooks gets closer to the football by Euro-stepping and shouldering past the man assigned to him. His moves are blessed with power, quickness, and lateral agility. On his way through, he works a near-arm flipper to stay clean. He knows how to get skinny, squeezing through the smallest of opportunities, while still maintaining his balance.

Brooks has received criticism for being pushed around by his opponents and getting stuck to some blocks. To significantly ding Brooks for this is to fundamentally misunderstand his defensive role. As explained in Part 3, his run fits were essentially two-gapping or double-gapping, meaning Brooks was forced to honor multiple threats and read the ball.

Naturally, offensive linemen were able to get onto Brooks when he was eliminating each option before fitting his gap. These linemen had one assignment: block Brooks. They were certain of this pre-snap and therefore had the advantage, firing off the ball for the linebacker. Yes, sometimes blockers were able to move Brooks as a result. However, he was still able to win to his gap and find the football. Take this audio-visual breakdown:

Brooks could use his hands more often, yet he - understandably - prefers his fruitful dipping, slipping, shouldering approach. That’s not to say Brooks can’t stack and shed, because he can. Maybe we’ll see Brooks work his hands more regularly in the NFL given Seattle is a frequently gapped-out defense that will give the linebacker one gap versus one back. Furthermore, with the Seahawks preferring their linebackers to go over the top of blocks, more active hand usage is a requirement, not a choice.

When Brooks got bigger in 2019 his shock-and-shed stuff carried more thump - think equipping stopping power rounds on Call of Duty Warzone. In the video below, the first play is a negative, with Brooks not getting rid of his blocker in time. There were occasions where Brooks would run around because he was trying to get to the ball carrier as opposed to taking the block. The rest of the video is stack-and-shed, active-hand goodness, with downhill play and a club-rib to come free for tackles.

You don’t get the figures Brooks did if you can’t beat blocks: Brooks had 26 percent of his defense’s tackles in 2019. It was this impressive production that John Schneider and Pete Carroll repeatedly enthused about after the pick.

“The guy’s been very, very productive,” Schneider told Softy and Dick on 950 KJR.

“I think they [Texas Tech] made a statement, that they want him to make all the tackles and they put him in a position to do that,” suggested Carroll following Day 1 of the festivities.

Brooks' ability to finish plays was what ultimately led to the mega numbers. Sports Info Solutions charted Brooks with 21.5 tackles for loss which led the off-ball linebacker draft class - testament to his instincts too. 19 percent of Brooks’ total tackles were for a loss, behind only Malik Harrison (21.3 percent)—again per SIS.

As expected, the tape showed that Brooks excels at a variety of tackles, in space or in the hole. There was the occasional over-pursuit but his length and quickness gave him the advantage. Sometimes Brooks went too low or missed at speed, an issue he somewhat rectified by adding a wrap-and-roll tackle in 2019. His head also got involved at rare points. All of this stuff will be refined by the Seahawks’ tackling system: a nation-defining, shoulder-contact method of coaching that USA Football now provides instructive courses on.

Of course, Brooks did occasionally miss his man. Guess what? That happens to defenders, especially when one is insert blitzing past a guard at full velocity trying to get to Jalen Hurts, who has managed to escape in another direction. It’s a difficult task.

Thankfully, the data companies demonstrate that Brooks’ sheer volume of tackles was matched by similarly impressive efficiency. Pro Football Focus logged Brooks as missing only 7 percent of his tackle attempts over the past two seasons. This was the lowest rate of any off-ball linebacker in college football with at least 150 solo tackles in that timeframe. For 2019 only, SIS had Brooks with just a 9 percent broken tackle rate, fourth-lowest in the off-ball LB class and further evidence of his ability to finish.

Misses transpired, but ultimately Brooks was a reliable tackling machine. If anything, when approaching blocks and tackling opportunities, the Seahawks’ linebacker could work on increasing his aggression. Sometimes the linebacker broke down to a fault, getting run over or pushed back too far by a blocker. This reduced his potential hit power.

Schneider, evaluator-in-chief, said as much. 

“I think the thing that he would tell you is he needs to bring his speed on contact a little bit more,” the general manager told reporters when asked where Brooks needs to improve.

In Brooks' overall game, his speed and athletic ability *POPS*. The linebacker's sideline-to-sideline range is often belied by being branded as a “downhill” player. NFC West offenses look to apply both vertical and horizontal stress and, thankfully, Brooks possesses the physical gifts to alleviate the tension in both these areas. He is a globetrotting player in terms of ground-coverage and Schneider’s description of Brooks’ play-style to 710 ESPN Seattle ‘Danny and Gallant’ as “sideline to sideline” was apt. In college, Brooks was able to catch Kyler Murray!

Brooks’ range on film is supported by his senior year body transformation at the new Texas Tech regime. In 2019, the arrival of coach Matt Wells brought strength and conditioning coach Dave Scholz from Utah State too. The tape showed that a bigger Brooks ran faster and hit harder. He became a true game-wrecker.

Brooks was listed at 235 pounds in his freshman Year. 2019 saw TTU roster him at 245 pounds. The January 2019 to July 2019 before-and-after pictures, courtesy of Scholz’ Instagram, are the most extreme indicator of his successful physical efforts.

The Athletic’s Max Olson wrote a profile on Scholz, in which Brooks featured heavily. Olson detailed the pair’s relationship:

“In order for Brooks to make substantial gains in 2019, he first had to buy into Scholz’s process. That took some time and some “very direct, hard, honest conversations,” the strength coach said.

This clearly paid off.

“The strength coach did a great job working with him,” assessed Schneider.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Seattle desperately needed to get faster. For too long what was once the Seahawks’ defensive trademark, "speed to the football," has been absent. It was an obvious need last offseason and remained an essential fix this time round. Brooks has the physical gifts to help.

His hustle, motor, and range were perfectly illustrated on this play:

The subject of athleticism brings us to Brooks’ measurables. At the NFL Combine, Brooks reached 6-foot tall and weighed 240 pounds. In addition, his length was confirmed, with Brooks’ arms at 32 7/8-inch long - 68th percentile among linebackers. There are similarities to Bobby Wagner’s size and that Seattle prototype:

There’s a chance Brooks slimmed down slightly for the 40-yard dash, which he ran in 4.54 seconds. It’s become almost meme-ish from Seattle when they say Brooks ran a 4.4 40 time; Carroll and Schneider keep repeating this hand-held measurement. Schneider said Seattle had him at 4.46 seconds. I do appreciate why teams go off stopwatch figures, given there is no laser timing at pro days and they need a base measurement for class-wide comparison. Still, the electronically-timed 4.54 second time and the draftscout.com 4.50 second time hand-held are some way off this.

It doesn’t really matter. Brooks plays faster than 4.54s on tape, which is already a great time - it's the 89th percentile. Evaluators look for the combine to match what they’ve seen on film, or they are forced to go back and re-watch games for whatever stuff they’ve missed.

“The speed that Brooks brings, I mean, he flies man,” Carroll said in his June press conference. “That 4.4 shows up on film.”

I’d bet a Sony PS5 that Brooks would’ve run quicker if he hadn’t been recovering from a shoulder injury. In March, the linebacker told Justin Melo of NFL Draft Wire that he only started running one week before his 40 time. Brooks “didn’t get a chance to train for the combine at all.”

Schneider was amazed at Brooks’ Indianapolis performance in these circumstances. “In the offseason what he did at the combine was phenomenal,” said the GM.

Brooks’ lack of preparation time stemmed from a December 2019 shoulder surgery, where his torn labrum was repaired. This prevented Brooks from competing in the January Senior Bowl (he was invited to the All-Star Event) and from doing all of the February combine drills. If fully healthy, the linebacker could have tested himself into the top 15 of the draft. His 3-cone would have been blistering given his shortening of corners that shows up blitzing, pursuing, and evading blocks.

Shoulder injuries are a concern though, especially as Brooks had shoulder surgery in 2016 too. Prior to his senior year, Brooks spoke about this battle.

“Coach Scholz has really done a great job of helping me get my shoulders right,” Brooks revealed at Big 12 media day. It was a clear focus.

Olson’s piece on Scholz described the methods of the strength and conditioning coach, confirming that preseason aim for Brooks: “The emphasis for Brooks last offseason was his shoulder joints, due to his injury history.” In The Athletic article, Scholz spoke about training the rotational capacity of joints harder than the linear capacity.

Despite all of this 2019 work, the fact that Brooks still required surgery at the end of his college career is worrying, particularly as the linebacker uses his shoulders so often that sometimes you’re left questioning why he isn’t going with his hands.

The work of Victor Kollar at Lake Washington Physical Therapy eases these concerns. Kollar concludes that “shoulder injuries involving the labrum are far too common in the NFL, and many players make a full recovery.” While we are not privy to Brooks’ exact medical information, the Seahawks were, along with the rest of the league, able to medically examine Brooks at the NFL combine.

Figuring out intangibles like this is a difficult process for NFL evaluators, let alone members of the media like yours truly. Injuries and mental make-up are the true driving forces behind a player’s success in the pros, a world of top of athletic talent. Calculating risk is the real skill behind successful drafting.

In terms of Brooks' mentals, Seattle appeared mightily impressed. When Schneider told him on the phone to “bring that toughness, and that grit was giving the linebacker serious plaudits. ‘Grit’ has become a tiresome football trope, an all-encompassing term that has loose definitions which vary depending on who you speak with. We know 'grit' matters deeply to the Seahawks though.

Brooks played through a lot of shoulder pain throughout his college career. After leaving the 2019 TCU game early with shoulder issues, he still suited up against Kansas State to try help the Red Raiders gain bowl eligibility. Others would have put their future career, and livelihood, first, but Brooks wanted to play for his teammates.

Brooks also overcame serious adversity growing up, experiencing homelessness as a child in Houston, Texas. Schneider raised this subject after picking Brooks. The linebacker estimated the period as “five years of hardship” to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. (You can read that fantastic background piece here)

In the draft process, it seems Brooks aced the meetings with Seattle at the Combine and Senior Bowl.

Carroll said Brooks was a “really clear communicator” with a “strong attitude.”

“It set us in a comfortable place, knowing that he’s gonna be a tough guy coming in to prove it, not this big flowery big time guy,” Carroll continued, painting a picture of the Combine interview.

“He was hard-nosed, work ethic kinda mentality that we really just accepted right off the bat. So, came across great.”

He’s “really intense, just embodies what our organization is all about, with a chip on his shoulder, and just being a guy that wants to be the best at his craft,” Schneider told Softy and Dick on 950 KJR.

Once he’s here, will remind you a lot of Bobby and K.J., and the way he plans and everything—plans his schedule I mean, he’s really into ball.”

Brooks’ 2019 Big 12 Media Day provided a glimpse of how he acts with others in the room. The confident and focused communication is obvious.

Sure, Brooks has the right mindset to succeed in the pros. However, the linebacker additionally understands football, which is huge given he’ll need to learn Seattle’s scheme, particularly the pass coverage that will be new-ish to him.

The evidence on tape of Brooks’ cleverness is how fast he plays, how quickly the linebacker gets to the football. His keys are sound and his eyes disciplined. Indeed, excellent diagnosis throughout the duration of plays has been a motif of this film series. Immediately after becoming a Seahawk, Brooks was asked about his ‘ball recognition. His answer was interesting.

“Coach Patterson,” Brooks credited his 2019 defensive coordinator. “He was just pushing me, just coming in watching film."

“At first I was kinda a little bit rebellious to it, because it wasn’t something I was accustomed to doing, just watching extra film outside of what was mandatory. But we just got into the habit of doing it three times a week and then some. It just became a good habit and it really, really paid off.”

Not only is the tape study obvious. Brooks gets the cat-and-mouse game that football, especially for a linebacker, often becomes. Brooks was able to hide behind the protection of the defensive lineman in front of him, mostly a nose tackle, and then work off that. He didn’t automatically fill holes, instead patiently enticing the running back into the opening before avoiding blockers and catching his prey. This is something Wagner is great at when he can trust his defensive linemen.

Brooks’ intelligence and maturity also satisfied a unique need regarding the 2020 draft process. We still don’t know the extent to which COVID-19 will impact football, but Seattle repeatedly mentioned their concerted effort to draft players who would cope with the difficult circumstance of pandemic and adapt accordingly. This offseason has already transformed into a weird, condensed process. It seems inevitable that the regular season is similarly bizarre.

The fact that Brooks "was able to transition so quickly with Matt Wells’ staff this year" was an aspect Schneider highlighted afterwards.

Brooks didn’t miss a step, instead improving his level of play. Wells’ overall system will help Brooks too because it was more sub-package in its nature. For instance, it featured 3rd-and-long pressure fronts and packages that are similar to how the NFL, and Seattle, does things.

“There’s no doubt that this guy is gonna come in ready to go,” Schneider stated.

Seattle’s goal of adding fast acclimatizers was emphasized by Schneider’s response to a question about need.

“I think, just in general terms, our philosophy was to try and get players, in the environment we’re in, that can come in and act like pros right away, “ the General Manager answered, alluding to Coronavirus. “And this [Brooks] is one of them.”

Back in April, COVID-19 was a major factor behind the Seahawks’ drafting—rightly so. While Schneider danced around the question of whether Seattle actually needed Brooks in the post-round 1 press conference, I’m going to answer the query directly in the fifth and final installment of my Books film breakdown, before discussing the philosophy of best player available and projecting the linebackers’ fit in the Pacific Northwest. What's clear at the end of Part 4 is Brooks has the fundamentals to excel.

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