Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks spent his first couple seasons with the team as "the guy that hasn't lived up to expectations," but in recent years has really stepped up his game. Brooks went from a guy that disappointed the Cincinnati Bengals, to a guy that disappointed the 49ers, to one of the more underrated players in the NFL.
Brooks came into his own in 2011, putting up seven sacks and 50 combined tackles in 16 games. That led the 49ers to sign him to a six-year, $37 million contract which included $8.25 million guaranteed. He did not disappoint in the follow-up, earning Second-team All-Pro honors and being a notable snub from the Pro Bowl.
Last season, he did make his first Pro Bowl, and was once again named a Second-team All-Pro. That was on the back of a 60-tackle, 8.5-sack performance that also included a forced fumble, an interception and seven pass deflections. He's a starter who isn't just relegated to rushing the passer these days.
When Aldon Smith was absent due to his off-the-field issues, Brooks picked up the slack well, though obviously losing a player like Smith did show in the pass-rushing department. Still, Brooks put up a strong season at 29 years of age, and didn't slow down in the postseason. In three postseason appearances, Brooks put up 4.5 sacks (which led the postseason) and 15 tackles.
It was about the kind of season we expected from Brooks and there's no reason to suspect that's not what we're going to get going forward, either. You don't hear a lot of talk about him because he's simply a very good player who plays well, is paid what he's worth and doesn't make a lot of mistakes, offsides and encroachment penalties notwithstanding.
Why he might improve:
The 49ers have a few new moving pieces on defense, and that could always lead to improvement (or regression) for anybody who was there the year before. Some players just play well with other players, and not so well with others. Brooks also might be expected to pick up the slack again in the event that Smith has to miss time due to his off-the-field issues.
Why he might regress:
At 30 years old, Brooks has seven NFL seasons under his belt. He's due for regression at some point, especially at his position. We've seen pass rushers make the transition to limited roles to prolong their careers, and while Brooks isn't at that point just yet, it could happen in the future. For 2013, I really only see him regressing if he just hits that age wall. I suppose a significant suspension for Smith could lead to Brooks getting double-teamed a lot at the line of scrimmage.
Odds of making the roster:
Brooks is here through the 2017 season and he'll be expected to make the roster in each of those seasons. The 49ers have some promising pass-rushers, like Corey Lemonier and Aaron Lynch, but neither of those players are going to challenge him now. There's obviously a chance that, say, next season, one of those guys eclipses Brooks and then the 49ers don't want to carry his contract any longer, but that's not going to happen this season. Also aliens.