Expectations are high for second-year cornerback Bradley Roby—both from without and within the Denver Broncos organization. He was arguably the NFL’s best rookie corner in 2014, but had his ups and downs playing next to two Pro Bowlers in Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib. Often, Roby was the low-hanging fruit for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
The opposition tried to exact their pound of flesh from Roby throughout his rookie season. He held his own. This film study will take a look at some of the plays from his rookie season that best exemplify his skill-set, while providing evidence that Broncos fans have a lot to look forward to from the former Ohio State Buckeye.
All animated images via NFL Rewind.
Play No. 1
Week 6 at New York Jets
The Jets are in 11-personnel (1 TE, 1 RB, 3 WR), with two receivers split right. QB Geno Smith is in the shotgun, with a RB in to help block. WR Jeremy Kerley starts out split out right, on the outside, but goes in motion right before the snap to create separation. TE Jace Amaro is in-line next to the LT and bends across the formation at the snap.
The Broncos are in their dime sub-package, with Brandon Marshall in as the only linebacker. CB Kayvon Webster is showing blitz off the left side of the defense and he comes. Roby’s assignment is Kerley. It’s third-and-12 and the Jets are looking to get something cooking. In what became a common theme throughout the season, the Jets offensive coordinator wants to pick on the rookie defensive back. In this case, Roby gets targeted to the Jets peril.
At the snap, Marshall is drawn downhill by the running back, sniffing out a possible screen. SS T.J. Ward vacates his zone to follow Amaro, which leaves the area open for what is likely the primary target—Kerley. Smith is hurried by inside pressure brought by DT Malik Jackson and is flushed out to within DeMarcus Ware’s reach.
Kerley’s motion nets him a free release off the line of scrimmage, but Roby plays him tight. As the ball is thrown, Roby reacts, wrapping his right arm against Kerley’s back and reaching his left out to deflect the ball.
In reality, Roby probably got there early but it was enough to throw off Kerley’s concentration. This play shows Roby’s willingness to mix it up and play physical, which can be a double-edged sword, but if done right, can shutdown opposing receivers and get in their heads.
Play No. 2
Week 6 at New York Jets
Again, the Jets are in 11-personnel, but they’re showing a different look. TE Amaro is split to the right, alone, while three receivers are on the left. QB Smith is in the shotgun, with RB Chris Johnson next to him. The Broncos are in their nickel sub-package, with Roby in the slot. Pre-snap, they’re disguising a zone blitz.
Smith and the Jets think Von Miller is coming, but at the snap, he sinks back into coverage and takes RB Johnson in the flat. LB Marshall blitzes through the B-gap. Roby disguises his blitz well, and fires down out of the slot. The Broncos bring five rushers, confusing Smith.
Roby closes on the pocket with velocity, flushing Smith out right. The QB thinks he’s bought himself time to make a read and throw downfield, but Roby is too fast. If Smith would have stood tall in the pocket, he wouldn’t have missed the window over the middle to WR Kerley, who was running free, due to Marshall’s blitz.
Roby’s pressure and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s scheme spooks Smith, throwing him off balance. Roby’s blitz is well-disguised and well-executed, resulting in one of his two sacks as a rookie. This play showcases his field awareness and football savvy, to say nothing of his closing speed and instinct.
Play No. 3
Week 6 vs. New York Jets
The Jets are in business in the redzone. This time, they’re running 12-personnel (2 TE). TE Jeff Cumberland is in-line next to the right tackle. The hot-route is TE Amaro, who is in the right slot, on an inside slant. The Jets wanted to go back to the well here with Amaro. The rookie TE had burned the Broncos all day, to the tune of 10 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
In the redzone, Smith and company want to continue to test the mettle of the rookie defensive back and again it backfires. The Broncos are in their nickel sub-package, with Roby lined up in the slot on Amaro.
At the snap, Amaro cuts inside and for a split-second, it looks like he might snag his second touchdown of the day. But Roby quickly breaks on the ball, diving to deflect the pass. IN-COM-PLETE! One of the aspects of Roby’s game I admire most, and it shows his character as a young player, is that instead of wilting when being picked on by veteran signal-callers, he would rise to the occasion and make a play for his defense.
He might get burnt from time-to-time, but he puts it in his rearview and looks to make up for it on the next play. He doesn’t wallow in the past, but rather, stays rooted in the moment and that will continue to serve him well as a pro. You have to have a short memory as a defensive back in the modern NFL.
Play No. 4
Week 10 at Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are backed up on their own six yard-line. With a rookie QB, the offensive coordinator wants to play it safe. The Raiders are lined up in 11-personnel, with three receivers to the left in a bunch formation. QB Derek Carr is in the shotgun, with is RB to his left. The Broncos are lined up in their big nickel sub-package, with safeties Ward, Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter on the field. Roby is lined up outside on the defensive right.
At the snap, Carr play-fakes to the running back to the right, pulls it down and rifles the ball on a bubble-screen to WR James Jones on the left. At first, Roby allows a seven-yard cushion to his assignment but sneaks up right before the snap, putting him in great position to make this play.
Roby is not fooled by the play-action and reading the blocking posture of the Raiders bubble, knifes downhill through the ineffectual block and makes the tackle for a loss. Although Del Rio likely told his unit to be wary of a screen pre-snap, this play showcases Roby’s play-awareness, physicality and excellent tackling skills, driving through his target, while being sure to wrap him up.
Play No. 5
Week 9 at New England Patriots
The Patriots are line up in 12-personnel, with one TE/H-back in to protect QB Tom Brady in the shotgun. They have one receiver split left and one right, with RB Shane Vereen split out to the far left. TE Rob Gronkowski goes in motion right before the snap.
This is a look the Patriots like to run to create mismatches for Vereen, who is an excellent receiver. The Broncos are in the nickel. They go with a another zone blitz, sending LB Nate Irving and CB Chris Harris, Jr. out of the defensive right slot, while Miller drops into coverage.
Although Brady first “looks off” FS Moore, drawing him away from Vereen’s deep route, Harris’ blitz pressures the QB into a quick decision and he lobs it down the left sideline for his RB, perhaps hoping for a back-shoulder completion. But Roby makes a great play on the ball in the air and deflects it out of bounds.
Again, don’t think for a second that Brady and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels weren’t cognizant of Roby’s inexperience. They tested him a few times in this game. Roby held his own, and even snagged an interception later in the game.
Granted, this film review showcases the positive aspects of Roby's game, while omitting his mistakes as a rookie, but what I've gleaned from my study on him tells me that he has immense potential. He has the skill-set to be a full-time starter.
Chris Harris, Jr. recently talked about wanting the Broncos to have "three elite corners". The reality is that Roby has the propensity to live up to that moniker. As he said in his own words, however, he must be more consistent.
I think we'll see that from him in year two under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.