ENGLEWOOD, Colo—Denver Broncos second-year cornerback Bradley Roby is well acquainted with expectations. Not only was he drafted by a team with Super Bowl expectations, the standards that he holds himself to are ridiculously high.
As a rookie in 2014, Roby played a whopping 818 snaps, notching 63 combined tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 13 passes defensed and two interceptions. He was arguably the NFL’s best rookie defensive back.
But when he was asked to grade his own 2014 performance back in April, he was less than complimentary of himself, ultimately giving himself a “C minus”. For a young player asked to line up next to three Pro Bowl teammates in the secondary, it certainly raises the bar, but is he being fair to himself?
One of his mentors thinks so. Following organized team activities today at Dove Valley, All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. concurred with Roby’s self-evaluation and elaborated on how he comes to that conclusion.
“I'd say C- is pretty good for him,” Harris said. “He was really up and down a lot. He went through a streak like five or six touchdowns where he gave up that in a row. Whenever you have that, that's definitely C-. He knows that. He knows what he has to get better at.”
Harris did not relinquish a single touchdown in coverage all season. And the amount he’s given up since coming into the league as an undrafted free agent can be counted on one hand. As a corner, he understands what it takes to be successful in the NFL and he already sees some of those traits in his young teammate.
“When you go through rough times like that—he still fought through it and still was able to come back and make a lot of plays,” Harris said regarding Roby. “That's something you want to see from him. He's improved a lot. I challenge him, we challenge each other and everyone is challenging Roby to really make that next leap so that we can have three elite corners.”
But in Harris’ (not-so)humble opinion, what are some of the things Roby must improve on, in order to get on the same level as he and fellow Pro Bowler, Aqib Talib?
“He's going to have to be consistent, especially playing with me and Talib out there on the field,” Harris said. “He's going to get some action. We're going to need him to be very consistent—even more consistent than he was last year. A lot of times I'll be in the slot blitzing or I'll be doing a lot of things all over the field, and he'll have to be outside sometimes. He has more responsibility within the defense. He has to line up at multiple positions. He has to definitely take that to the next level. We need him to if we're going to get even better than last year as a defense.”
Talk about upping the ante! As for Roby, he’s already feeling more confident and comfortable in his second season. Having to acclimate to life as a professional, adjust to the speed of the NFL game and assimilate the Broncos defensive playbook, can lead to thinking more than reacting and leaning on his instinctual ability.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Roby said today. “I'm not really thinking a lot like I did last year. I'm thinking about the right things and not the wrong things. I think last year I thought about not getting beat and things like that because I knew I was a rookie and that they were going to come after me. I was worried about not getting beat rather than paying attention to the right keys that make sure that I don't get beat. That's what I pay attention to now. I'm going to be a lot better—a whole lot better this year.”
In his defense, Roby made some big plays for the Broncos as a rookie. He withstood the pressure of being a contender’s first rounder with aplomb, as exemplified by his deflection on an Andrew Luck pass to Reggie Wayne, late in the fourth quarter, to secure the Broncos 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1.
Although he disputes Pro Football Focus’ findings that he gave up six touchdowns last year, Roby does allow that one of his primary goals in 2015 is to limit opponent scores at his expense. He talked about his personal performance goals in his second season.
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“To give up fewer touchdowns than I did last year and make a few more interceptions, a high number, but I'm not going to say it just yet,” he said. “I don't want it to be like I'm selfish and stuff like that, but I have something in mind that I want to do. I have personal goals about that. I just to make enough plays for us to win. I want to make the best plays when it all counts. When it's the fourth quarter and everything is on the line, Talib's got his guy covered, Chris has got his guy covered, and when they come to me, I want them to lose. That's what I want to do every game.”
As for those pesky rumors flying around about Roby moving to free safety—according to him, Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has yet to try him at that position, instead choosing to keep him at cornerback with Harris and Talib.
“We haven't done that at all,” he said. “He [Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips] hasn't told me that.”
However, Phillips and other members of the coaching staff have intimated that in an effort to get their best 11 guys on the field, they might put together a package that features Roby at free safety. If called upon to step in at another position, Roby will do whatever gives his team the best chance to win.
“I'm cool with that,” he said. “I definitely want to play corner. I definitely think I'm a cornerback. I really put all my efforts into being the best corner I can be. Safety is cool, but I love the game to play cornerback. I would definitely play it and who knows in what packages.”
The bottom line is that Roby showcased a great propensity for making big plays as a rookie. It’s true that he needs to strive for better consistency, but if he can turn the corner in his developmental learning curve, the Broncos will truly have an embarrassment of riches in the secondary.