When the Denver Broncos selected cornerback Bradley Roby with the No. 31 pick in last May's draft, there were some red flags surrounding him. There was no question that during his time at Ohio State, he flashed pro-level talent, but consistency and off-the-field character concerns caused him to almost slip out of the first round.
It couldn't have worked out better for the Broncos, getting a player of his caliber at the bottom of the first round. Roby worked hard throughout organized team activities and training camp, earning a spot with the defense's nickel sub-packages. And in today's pass-happy NFL, nickel corners are starters in every way but by name.
From the team's week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, where he broke up a fourth down pass to Reggie Wayne, ending Andrew Luck 's comeback hopes, to week 17 vs. the Oakland Raiders, where he only allowed 3 catches for 12 yards, Roby has had a very productive rookie campaign.
But does Bradley Roby deserve to be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation? Verily I say unto you, yes he does.
However, he faces a stiff up-hill battle that many would say nullifies his odds of winning. Guys like Aaron Donald and C.J. Mosley, who both made the Pro Bowl, and Khalil Mack (+56.4), who finished the season as the highest rated linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (narrowly edging out Von Miller (+55.7), were all selected higher in the draft.
It can also be argued that those three players each played a more pivotal role in their respective team's success. Roby, for example, is the Broncos No. 3 CB, with the two players higher than he on the depth chart, (Chris Harris, Jr., and Aqib Talib) both earning Pro Bowl selections.
Of the nine Broncos players selected to the 2015 Pro Bowl, five came from the defensive side of the ball, and that's not counting guys like Brandon Marshall and Terrance Knighton, who played at a Pro Bowl level, but were snubbed by their peers.
In other words, for a rookie like Roby, who had a great rookie campaign, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle of a defense replete with studs. For what it's worth, his head coach, John Fox, firmly believes that Roby deserves to be in the DRoY conversation, at the very least.
“I think he’s had that kind of season," Fox said Tuesday via the team. "What’s been remarkable to me is he really wants to be a great player. He’s got the mindset; he’s a very smart young guy that works hard at it. And he really truly tries to get better every day, and in turn, that helps your performance every week. So I’ve been very impressed by the young man and I think he’s had a tremendous year. Some of that voting stuff, I don’t control that. But I think his name ought to be in the mention.”
I don't think there's any doubt that Roby at least deserves to be in the conversation. Whether his season merits winning the actual award, is up for debate. But I'm just a sports writer. Let's hear it from the horse's mouth.
“I don’t think I have," Roby said when asked if he deserves to win DRoY. "That was definitely a goal of mine going in. At corner, it’s a lot harder to get adjusted your first year. It’s not really a lot of times that a corner gets rookie of the year, because the position’s so hard and just learning it and those sorts of things. There have been a lot of good rookies this year: [Ravens LB] C.J. Mosley, [Rams DT] Aaron Donald, those are the guys that I know that have been doing their thing this year. I’ve been playing well, but I don’t think I’ve been playing better than those guys at their respective positions. But I definitely think I’m one of the best rookie DBs that’s playing right now. I’m not even worried about it. I’m just going to try keep getting these wins for my team and keep getting better.”
Roby might be humble, but he's right. Other than defensive tackle, the rookie learning curve for cornerbacks is among the steepest, making Donald's season that much more impressive. Roby finished the year with 65 total tackles (63 solo), 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and a sack.
It's rather striking production for a rookie, playing shoulder-to-shoulder with two other corners who opposing quarterbacks would rather not target in coverage. He held his own. No matter what happens in the DRoY race, with Roby, Harris, and Talib locked up long-term, the Broncos have an excellent triumvirate at corner to build around moving forward.