When it comes to process of scouting college players, it isn’t always the size of the dog in the fight that matters, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Despite playing for a Missouri team that was surrounded by turmoil in 2015 – from the dismissal of starting quarterback Maty Mauk to a threatened boycott of a game in October that led to the resignation of the school president – Brothers helped keep the players together and led by example.
He led the country in tackles with 152, including 10 or more tackles in each of the last seven games of the season. An avid film junkie, he has made the most of his skill set from his 6-0½, 245-pound frame.
A heat-seeking missile in run support as an inside linebacker for the Tigers and an elite special teams player, Brothers is prepared to make the transition to the NFL, but realizes he will be started from the bottom of the totem pole as he has to learn a new style of playing defense.
“Our defense in college is a lot different than what they do with the Vikings,” Brothers said. “I see myself playing middle. That’s what I’ve been told by the coaches so far – middle linebacker and a special teams player. Wherever they put me, I’m going to go out there and compete for a spot.”
The knock on Brothers is that, if he was a couple of inches taller and 10 pounds heavier, he would have been gone long before he went in the fifth round.
At a time when measurable stats often mean as much as in-game stats, Brothers said he isn’t concerned about the sleight he gets from some scouts. He’s always been a bit undersized and excelled in the SEC.
If anything, he sees his stature as a positive, not a negative.
“I don’t see it as a disadvantage,” Brothers said. “I see it as an advantage in multiple ways. I’m able to stay under and stay low on linemen. I’m able to hit low on running backs. I just don’t see that as the disadvantage other people do. I’ve worked well with it so far and I think I can continue to do that with the Vikings.”
Brothers was one of the unquestioned leaders of the Tigers last season, which was one of the most tumultuous any team has had to face in recent memory. Aside from Mauk being kicked off the team after a video surfaced of him snorting cocaine, there were a series of racially tense events that exploded on the Missouri campus in October.
The unrest got so bad that it spilled over to the football team. Players threatened to boycott a game if university president Tim Wolfe didn’t resign – a call to arms that would have resulted in a forfeit and would have caused severe damage to the university.
In the end, both Wolfe and university chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned. The Tigers looked like a program in disarray, but Brothers said things were actually quiet and unifying in the eye of the hurricane.
“I don’t think it was as difficult as people think it was,” Brothers said. “I say that with the most respect to President Wolfe. When this situation unfolded, it was a situation where either everybody’s in or everybody’s out. Once everybody decided that they were in to this, the players who weren’t said they weren’t going to get on Twitter and that they’re not with the team. Once we saw that – coming together as a team to make something happen – I think that brought us together. We were able to stick through that event as one. It was under odd circumstances, but I think it was a situation that brought us closer in the long run.”
The turmoil didn’t impact Brothers’ level of play. He had his best games at the end of the season, even though his team was going to three-peat as SEC East Division champions.
The Vikings took notice and Jamaal Stephenson, director of college scouting for the organization, said that the scouting staff fell in love with Brothers from first look, and the more they saw, the more they were impressed.
“It’s hard not to like him when you turn on the tape,” Stephenson said. “He makes a lot of plays. He had (152) tackles this year. He doesn’t just do it on defense. He had three blocked kicks this year. We’re excited about adding him. He didn’t run great at the Combine and he isn’t 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, but good players come in all shapes and sizes. We’re excited about him.”
Another player who saw his stock drop because he was shorter than analysts thought he should be to succeed – former Rams Pro Bowler London Fletcher – tweeted that Brothers reminds him a lot of himself – tweeting “I really like him, wants to make every tackle. Reminds me of a guy that ran sideline to sideline with the #GSOT (Greatest Show On Turf).”
To get his NFL career started, Brothers is likely going to have to be a core special teams player. But, like so many other things he does, he excels at special teams. He tied for the most blocked kicks in the country in 2015 with three and he takes the same approach to being a special teams ace as he did being a defensive leader.
“Blocking field goals and blocking punts, it’s really all determination,” Brothers said. “Being on field goal block, that’s all heart. All you have to do is go in there, get as much push as you can and get your hands up to try to block the kick. I was able to do that three times this year. It takes heart and determination and giving that want to go in and get that block.”
Brothers isn’t guaranteed anything at the NFL level, because the Vikings already have a starting middle linebacker in Eric Kendricks. But Brothers is willing to take on any role, even if it means it will be solely on special teams.
“I know that’s a beginning point for all rookies,” Brothers said. “I’m ready to play all special teams if it comes down to that.”