If teams really do draft for tools and traits rather than production, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby could easily find himself as the the third cornerback taken in the first round of the draft. And with so many teams in the market, the San Francisco 49ers might have to trade up from their spot at No. 30 to get him.
Roby, a red-shirt junior, elected to return to school this last season after an outstanding 2012 that had many believing he would have been a top-10 pick in that year's draft. But he went back to play for Urban Meyer's Buckeye's who had a shot at a national championship after going undefeated in the first season under the new coach's watch.
That appeal could have have stemmed from Ohio State's sanctions against the football program that banned the team from postseason play in 2012. The Buckeyes finished undefeated and were ineligible for BCS Championship consideration in Meyer's first year. With all that momentum for one of college football's premier programs paired with an elite coach, Roby's decision to return to school was justifiable.
But things didn't play out like Roby would have hoped. Ohio State wound up losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game falling out of the national title race. They still earned a BCS bid, but came up short against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, 40-35.
Roby's 2013 season didn't live up to the high expectations generated by the previous year. His consistency - along with the entire Buckeyes secondary - took a step back as the defense allowed 268 passing yards per game after allowing 243 in 2012. Roby even allowed a 10-reception 207-yard performance to Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and a 12-catch, 173-yard day to Allen Robinson of Penn State, although that game got out of hand early and Ohio State won 63-14.
Both those receivers will get drafted come May, but the Wisconsin became the focal points of Roby's drop in production from his outstanding sophomore season.
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Standing 5-11 and 194 pounds with 31 1/2-inch arms and big hands, Roby ran a very impressive 4.39 40 at the scouting combine. He also notched 17 reps on the bench press and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical. There's little question he possesses elite physical tools, which will likely influence his draft status more than a less-than-stellar final collegiate season.
An NFL scout told Buckeye Sports Bulletin in December: "He hurt his draft stock if the draft was on Dec. 1., but it's not until May…He's got dynamic skills that you don't see a lot of people have. He's going to be a guy that's going to test very well, that's going to do very well with some of that silly season stuff -- as good as anyone in the country. By the time it's all said and done, no, I think he'll be right where he was last year as well."
Currently Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard are the consensus top corners in the draft. But according to the scout, Roby would have been in the mix with them atop draft boards if he approached his junior campaign the same way he did as a sophomore.
"The general scouting community understands that the situation with him is that he wasn't the most excited guy to be back in school," the NFL scout said. "He probably thought he could just show up and be the most talented kid in the world, which means that he wasn't putting in a lot of extra work and all of those things."
That would have to change at the next level, perhaps along with Roby's personal habits away from the field. He was arrested last summer for a misdemeanor battery charge in Bloomington, Ind. that was later lowered to disorderly conduct. It led to a one-game suspension to start the season. With the recent events surrounding Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith, the 49ers will be weary of any more potential run-ins with the law going forward.
Despite some drop off in 2013, Roby was still named an All-Big Ten performer after breaking up 13 passes and making three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. When at his best, he showed very few weaknesses in his game in both man-to-man and zone coverages. He's also believed to have the athletic skills to excel in the slot - currently a need for the 49ers after the departures of Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown who both signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.
With six picks in the first three rounds, San Francisco has the ammunition to move into the middle portion of the first round and take a player of their choosing much like they did a year ago with Eric Reid. If Roby is their man, they might have to with so many teams looking to take a corner at that point in round.
Ben Axelrod of Buckeye Sports Bulletin contributed to this report.
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