When the Denver Broncos selected Ohio State cornerback, Bradley Roby, with the 31st pick in the 1st round, they got a top-10 talent. Roby had a stellar sophomore season, but his performance trailed off a bit his junior year with the Buckeyes. Nonetheless, he notched a career-high 69 tackles, to go along with his 3 interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown).
It didn't help his draft stock when he had a run in with Johnny Law, during the pre-draft process. Needless to say, it threw up off-the-field/character red flags for NFL teams. It's hard to say what led to Roby's down year in 2013. Understand, he wasn't terrible, by any stretch of the imagination. But he struggled one-on-one vs some NFL-caliber talent like Jared Abbrederis and Bennie Fowler.
However, the skill-set that Roby brought to the NFL combine; 4.39/40-yard dash, lightning quick closing speed, and developed technique, drew John Elway and the Broncos to him. They were shocked that he was there at pick #31.
So they pulled the trigger. Throughout organized team activities (OTAs) and training camp, most of the buzz on Roby was negative. Denver media, especially radio, would not stop talking about his "battles" with fellow rookie wide receiver, Cody Latimer, of which he was often on the losing end.
The constant scrutiny on this rookie tandem finally led Roby to refuse to "talk about (Cody) Latimer" anymore. His up and down training camp was typical for rookies. The learning curve and speed of the game are often elements that slow down a rookie's ability to assimilate and flash when the lights are on.
But once the Broncos got to the preseason, he began to separate himself. And by week 1 of the regular season, Roby had supplanted 2nd-year cornerback, Kayvon Webster, as the team's #3 cornerback.
In week 1 vs the Indianapolis Colts, he saw a whopping 65 snaps on defense, 26 more than the starter, Chris Harris, Jr. Andrew Luck, in what one would expect from a veteran quarterback, targeted Roby early and often, connecting on 7/10 of them before what became a defining play. The rookie was under duress. And even though he'd allowed 70% of the passes thrown his way to be completed, when the chips were down, he came through.
Down by 7 points, with under 2 minutes to go in the game, the Colts were driving. A stingy, bend-but-don't-break Broncos defense held them to a 4th down play that would decide the game. Once again, Luck targeted the rook. Reggie Wayne ran a perfect route over the middle and had initially beaten Roby. But the rookie's elite closing speed narrowed the gap, with the ball in the air, and Roby broke up the pass. In-com-plete! Game over.
That game was a clear indication that although Roby might endure some ups and downs as a rookie, he wasn't going to lose his confidence. That play was made at the expense of a future Hall of Famer, in Wayne. Not exactly chopped liver.
Since then, Roby has improved each week. In Sunday's matchup vs the New York Jets, Roby was targeted 4 times, relinquishing only a single completion for 7 yards. He had a couple of key pass break-ups in that game and even notched his first career sack. This earned him a +2.5 overall grade via ProFootballFocus.com, a team high in the Broncos secondary.
As high as I was on Roby, going into the draft, I have to admit that I didn't expect to see him playing as well as he is, especially this early. The Broncos defensive coaching staff obviously have a lot of faith in him, as evidenced by the amount of snaps he's received each week.
It's still early, but Bradley Roby is already flashing elite traits. His closing speed and aggressive physicality have set him apart. Although he fell into the Broncos lap in the draft, it was no coincidence that they pulled the trigger on him. And I'm not just talking about his talent alone.
The Broncos gave Aqib Talib a 6-year, $57M deal in March. That's a lot of money going to one side of the defensive backfield. Harris is playing in the last year of his deal. And thus far, he's been the NFL's best cornerback. Quarterbacks have collectively earned just a 31.9 rating when targeting him in 2014. He's playing lights out.
And as a result, he's likely pricing himself out of the Broncos salary cap budget. The team can always look at franchise tagging Harris, but with extensions due to other stars, like Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Von Miller and Terrance Knighton, it'll take a real act of cap wizardry by Michael Sullivan to retain them all. Translation: Harris is a $10M man and a likely cap casualty. Broncos Country will have to watch him sail away on the winds of free agency.
Enter Bradley Roby. The Broncos hedged their bet on Harris by drafting the Ohio State product. Nothing is certain and in the NFL anything can happen, but Roby's ascension will force some tough decisions in Dove Valley, come the off-season. For now, fans can look forward to watching Roby continue to develop his elite traits.
It won't be long before he utilizes his top-line closing speed to bait quarterbacks into throws that will turn into interceptions. They'll come, especially with the amount of snaps he's seeing. Roby has bolstered this new-look Broncos defense in ways that even the Broncos probably didn't imagine when they drafted him last March.
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