NFL Draft: Michigan State S Kendell Brooks is Poor Man's Jamal Adams
Interviewing the Spartan's defensive back before the 2023 NFL Draft.
When North Greenville University decided to suspend its football season at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, it gave the Crusaders' safety Kendell Brooks the opportunity to enter the transfer portal.
The DII school in Tigerville, South Carolina, was just over a two-hour trip north of Brooks’ hometown of Swansea, South Carolina.
No one knew it would become a life-changing event for the South Carolina native.
During the chaotic outcome of no football, Brooks headed south down I-26 East back home. However, he found himself busier than ever, working three jobs.
With his future up in the air, Brooks tried to save money as he anxiously awaited where the transfer portal might lead him.
He was delivering pizzas, working at UPS and working the family business of logging. The Taylor Logging and Tree Service played a pivotal role in the development of Brooks' toughness and character.
“I’m from a small town, Brooks remarked. “I’m a country boy. So, that’s kind of how we were brought up.”
Working long, exhausting hours. Being tough. Taking nothing for granted. Those are all the hallmark characteristics of Brooks’ character. He could handle the outcome, whatever the case may be.
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Through the trials and tribulations amid finding out his next destination, Brooks hit the jackpot. A lottery ticket of good fortunes besieged Brooks after Michigan State head coach Melvin Tucker II called to welcome him to Michigan State University.
“It was like one of the best days of my life,” Brooks stated. “I couldn’t believe it. I called everybody I knew who was important to me (laughing).”
The culture shock was beyond measure for Brooks. Living in rural South Carolina and playing at a small DII school, his campus arrival to a Power-5 program in the Big Ten was nothing short of arriving on another planet.
“Dietitians to nutritionists,” Brooks said. “We had trainers and a weight staff. It was amazing.”
The transition to DI football for Brooks resulted in playing in all 13 games during his inaugural season with the Spartans. Primarily playing special teams, he would barely record over two-dozen defensive snaps (26) and registered just nine tackles for the year.
Early in his second season, Brooks found himself in the unique position to capitalize on filling in for Xavier Henderson, the Spartans' two-time team captain against Akron in the second game of the season. Brooks had seven tackles, along with a forced fumble.
His awe-inspiring debut led Brooks to continue to develop rapidly into one of the top defenders on the Michigan State defense.
“From the first moment when I went in, everything was kind of moving so fast and throughout the rest of the season,” Brooks said.
East Lansing was going to become quite familiar with seeing Brooks’ No. 33 emerge as one of the critical components of the Spartans' defensive unit. Starting ten games at safety, he played in 756 snaps, second most of any Spartan defender and the most in the secondary.
Brooks tied for eighth in the FBS with three forced fumbles and ranked second on the team and tied for fifth in the Big Ten with 100 tackles. His 9.1 tackles per game tied him for fourth in the conference.
“I definitely feel like I haven’t even peaked yet,” Brooks said. “At State, we ran a lot of zone. Then I rolled down in the box a lot. So, I didn’t really get to show my man-to-man coverage skills.”
It wasn’t until the season ended that he finally got the chance to soak it all in. Brooks began to realize the outcome put him on the radar to earn a draftable grade by NFL teams. Something that was impossible to imagine prior to the transfer portal from North Greenville.
Watching Brooks reminds me of Jacksonville Jaguars' safety Daniel Thomas. Selected in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Auburn, the two share a lot of similarities. Brooks, like Thomas, is a short, stocky defender and force against the run. Each of them possesses that toughness intangible (country strong) that resonates with coaches. It worked for Thomas, now we will await and see if the same outcome comes to fruition for Brooks.
Brooks topped all safeties at Michigan State with three passes defended. That will be an important factor for teams judging his ability to play in space and roam the secondary successfully.
The success didn’t go without putting in the work both on and off the field. Brooks used the film study as an alley in his quick ascension up the ranks at Michigan State.
“I bang it out,” Brooks laughed. “I’m always in the film room staying late. Ain’t nobody in there, just me and Mr. Larry. That’s the janitor.”
He made it a habit that after practice in the morning and school during the afternoon. His nights would be spent breaking down tape of opponents. The little things that support the bigger picture that is all on display when Saturdays roll around.
Michigan State’s Pro Day will play a big factor in how Brooks spends his summer. With some solid numbers, surely he’ll get noticed and be in a rookie camp somewhere in the NFL.
That’s when the scrappy, gritty fringe players make their mark. Brooks is a player who begins to seep into the practice tape. Coaches rewatch it and will notice him again and again.
Rookie minicamp leads to training camp.
Then it’s game on for this poor man’s Jamal Adams to light it up.
Kendell Brooks finished his senior season at Michigan State. During his senior season, he played in 11 games with 10 starting assignments at safety. He was tied for eighth in the FBS with three forced fumbles. He also ranked second on the team and tied for fifth in the Big Ten with 100 total tackles (48 solo, 52 assists), tied for fourth in the Big Ten in tackles per game (9.1), and collected 3.5 tackles for loss (7 yards) with three pass breakups. Over his collegiate career, he earned two letters at Michigan State (2021-22) after transferring from Division II North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina. He played in 43 collegiate games with 20 starts (19 games and 10 starts at North Greenville, 24 games and 10 starts at Michigan State), finishing with 187 career tackles (78 at NGU, 109 at MSU).