Matt Waldman examines Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks, the most conceptually and technically gifted running back in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
Kennedy Brooks is a mild-mannered magician. Playing a position where even college coaches prefer elite athletes, Brooks has held down the starting job at Oklahoma — one of the great R.B.U.’s of college football in recent years as well as all-time — despite lacking the ideal size, strength, speed, and agility that most NFL prospects flash.
Even so, Brooks is a compelling prospect — a complex and difficult evaluation for sure — whose conceptual and technical understanding of the position and the game is elite. I’m confident that Brooks’ workout metrics will meet the RSP’s baselines for the NFL but I know the NFL doesn’t understand the position as well as it thinks it does.
Their evaluations place far too much weight on less substantial characteristics such as long speed and poorly defined criteria for contact balance and vision. Hell, they take the term “vision” too literally as seeing pursuit angles and open holes rather than pre-snap and post-snap decision-making and understanding how to run specific blocking schemes.
Some teams make choices that show they’re valuing only a fraction of what matters with this trait. Short-area quickness and well-defined standards for contact balance, vision, and footwork are all more important than a lot of the incomplete measures they incorporate.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge is not whether Brooks can play in the NFL but whether he can transcend the bias that comes with low draft capital that he’ll likely earn as an early Day Three pick, at best. While I’m touting the immense technical and conceptual talents of Brooks, for me, the difficult question with his evaluation is whether he can transcend baseline athletic skills to make a roster and become a lead back.
Until we see his workout metrics, I’m skeptical but open to the possibility. Nonetheless, Brooks’ Boiler Room is essential viewing if you want to see the technical and conceptual skills that are often the difference between a top athlete at the position who doesn’t become a top NFL starter and an elite athlete who has also acquired the essential skills to excel at the highest level.
As my friend Chad Reuter at NFL.com characterized, Brooks appears to be a back with all squeeze but no juice. What a perfect way to see what technical and conceptual skills can do at the position when you remove the special athletic ability from the equation.
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