Jonathon Brooks is Worth the Risk—Rookie RB Tiers 1-2

Jonathon Brooks is Worth the Risk—Rookie RB Tiers 1-2

Diamonds in the Rough

The 2024 running back class is weak. There's no getting around that. But this running back class isn't terrible. Like most classes, it lacks a Bijan Robinson-level star. It also lacks a Jamyr Gibbs-level upside swing. But the class has two prospects who I think would have slotted in ahead of the rest of last year's class. It also has a fairly deep group of 3rd round-rookie pick types. That's not the most exciting thing in the world, but these are players who we'll likely be drafting over the next several seasons.

Let me put it this way—this class definitely lacks firepower, but it has a good shot to produce a couple of starters and should also provide some good contingency-based bets over the next few seasons.

Tier 1 - Best in Class

Jonathon Brooks

At a Glance

As a true junior in 2023, Jonathon Brooks took on the monumental task of replacing Bijan Robinson. He wasn't quite Bijan... but Brooks was very impressive nonetheless, showcasing high-end tackle breaking along with breakaway ability and receiving versatility. Unfortunately, his breakout season was cut short by a torn ACL.

Positive Indicators

Brooks was highly productive as a 20-year-old at Texas, averaging 142 scrimmage yards and 1.1 TDs per game in 2023.

And on one of the best teams in the nation, Brooks controlled the backfield, with a 76% backfield dominator rating. At 6-foot, 216, Brooks isn't the biggest back, but he's shown the ability to operate as a workhorse.

Brooks can handle a lot of touches, but he isn't a plodder. With a 67th-percentile breakaway percentage, he showed D'Andre Swift-esque breakaway ability. Brooks also posted a 59th-percentile mark in breakaway yards per game.

Brooks is solid in the open field, but he's elite at dealing with contact and picking up yards afterward, with a 97th-percentile career elusive rating. Even better, Brooks broke tackles while handling a strong workload, rating 79th percentile in elusiveness per game.

Some tackle-breakers constantly run to contact. It's deeply frustrating to watch a running back who appears gravitationally attracted to the nearest defender. But per Arjun Menon, Brooks shined when his blockers handled the contact with the defense, leaving him perfectly blocked lanes.

Brooks is also a capable receiver. He averaged 29 receiving yards per game in 2023 and has a 1.46 career YPRR, a 76th percentile mark.

And Brooks is very young. He broke out as a 20-year-old and doesn't turn 21 until July. Youth is generally a bullish indicator, but it's especially relevant given Brooks' 2023 ACL tear.

Red Flags

Brooks is a versatile pass catcher, but he wasn't used a ton as a pass catcher, running just 12 routes per game in college. He also had a poor career backfield dominator rating of 40%.

These issues are less concerning in the context of his backfield, though. In addition to playing behind Bijan Robinson, he also had Roschon Johnson ahead of him in passing situations. With the backfield to himself in 2023, Brooks ran 19 routes per game with a 76% dominator rating.

Bijan Robinson was one of the best college RBs of the last decade, and Johnson was a reliable upperclassman. Given his impressive role in 2023, it's hard to be overly concerned about Brooks' career numbers.

Still, Brooks is a one-year wonder, which lowers his floor.

The bigger issue is that Brooks' lone season as a starter was cut short by an ACL tear. Brooks suffered the injury on November 11th and had surgery roughly a month later.

The good news is that his recovery seems to be going well.

I don't know if you've heard... but Dr. Dan Cooper is the Cowboys' team doctor.

So we have reports that Brooks will be ready for training camp and the best landing spot on the board is basically a total lock so... yea, there's a temptation to hand waive Brooks' injury. But it's going to have an impact.

On the LegUp pod, Matthew Betz cautioned that Brooks was unlikely to be fully healthy until November or December.

So even if Brooks returns to play early in the season, his ACL tear is a red flag.

At less than 100%, he's less likely to earn the trust of his coaches, which could slow down his path to a true leadback role. He's also less likely to be productive while at less than full health.

And while Brooks checks a lot of boxes as a prospect, even leaving the injury aside, he has a firmly sub-elite profile. We're then asking that player to return from a major knee injury to begin his career.

Statistical Comps

  • Travis Etienne
  • Darrell Henderson
  • Javonte Williams
  • Aaron Jones

Best Ball / Dynasty Outlook

Despite his ACL recovery, Brooks projects to be the top RB taken in the NFL draft. And as a Round 2 pick, Brooks would have a very good chance of landing in a great situation. That's true generally, but this draft class specifically is strong enough at other positions that a Round 2 luxury RB pick would be extra egregious.

However, if Brooks slips into Round 3, things could get murky. I was messing around with the PFF Mock Draft Simulator, and on one of my runs, the 49ers took Brooks in Round 3.

I'm not implying my mock draft fiddling was predictive, but that landing spot struck me as a classic NFL move. The 49ers value the run game and currently have an aging superstar and a not-infrequently injured backup on the last year of his deal. If you give the 49ers a chance to scoop a talent like Brooks at a discount... they might do it.

My point here is that in Round 2, the teams that think Brooks makes sense for them will probably also make sense to us. The later Brooks drops, the higher the odds we get a perplexing landing spot or one that sets him up for a redshirt rookie season. In other words, his injury broadens his range of outcomes on draft weekend as well as during his rookie season. He's definitely live for a great setup, but we could leave Day 2 shell-shocked.

As a player, Brooks looks pretty safe. He's a versatile back who can break tackles, hit long runs, and is highly regarded by film evaluators. But his injury makes him a lot more boom/bust, especially when projecting his 2024 production alone.

Best Ball Recommendation

Brooks was a priority target early in the Big Board. His ADP has risen since then but because of his potential for late-season production, he remains a target.

Superflex Rookie Draft Grade

Late 1st round.

Trey Benson

At a Glance

This post is for paying subscribers only

Already have an account? Log in