“The first day of practice, I thought I was going to be done,” Rollins said at the Scouting Combine on Saturday. “I’m just a competitor and I expected to go out there and do the same things I was doing in high school. And when it wasn’t happening the first day, it was ‘Oh, what am I doing here?’ The next day I came in and the GA (graduate assistant coach) was like, ‘You did some good things out there.’ I’m thinking I had a terrible practice and he said, ‘You did some good things naturally.’ So that was my building block and I stuck with it and kept getting better.”
One building block on top of another on top of another, Rollins has built himself into one of the unique stories in this year’s draft class. As a four-year basketball player at Miami (Ohio), Rollins ranks 12th on the MAC’s all-time list with 214 steals and is fourth in school history with 391 assists. On the advice of a scout from the Ravens, who had seen Rollins on the hardwood, he gave football a one-year trial. The result? Seven interceptions, the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year, an invite to the Senior Bowl and a meteoric rise up draft boards.
“I wouldn’t say I surprised myself, because if anyone knows what I’m capable of, it’s me,” Rollins said. “I just didn’t expect it to come that fast. I thought I’d have a solid year but to have a year like that, it was special. I just can’t do nothing but say I was blessed and fortunate and hopefully just more seasons to come.”
He’ll have that opportunity. Rollins (5-11) entered the Scouting Combine as the No. 36 overall prospect, according to rankings provided to Scout.com by the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te Thomas.
What Rollins accomplished in such a short time really is remarkable. He played receiver in high school until he was offered a basketball scholarship during his junior season. When Rollins showed up for his first practice with the Redhawks, he basically had to start with the basics. In comparison to his teammates, who had been playing defensive back for years, it was like Rollins was learning his multiplication tables while everyone else was in calculus.
Starting near the bottom of the depth chart, Rollins won the starting job on little more than athleticism and physicality and hard work. He worked overtime in the film room, figuring knowing his opponent would help counter shortcomings in technique.
Another hurdle Rollins had to overcome was his lack of experience as a tackler. Rollins was confident he could do it but knew he had to show his teammates that he wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work for “good of the team.”
“It’s funny, because we didn’t tackle all summer because our numbers were low,” Rollins said. “The first time I actually live hit was the first game of the season (against Marshall). I’ve never had a problem sticking my nose in there. It’s a business decision, as I’ve heard. I’ve always gone in there and made a fast decision. I’m not going to let things get to me before I get to them.”
Rollins might not be the best cornerback in this draft and he certainly won’t be the best corner of this class when he sets foot in some team’s rookie camp following the draft. But considering how far he’s come in such a short time, who knows how high an upside Rollins possesses.
Even Rollins doesn’t know – though he’s eager to find out.
“Yeah, I’m definitely curious to see what my upside is, just because I know I’ve got so much more learning to do,” Rollins said. “Even though I’m a fast learner, I’ve got a lot of learning to do. The NFL coaching at the Senior Bowl was great, and I’m just ready to go to an organization and learn their schemes and get some of their coaching and keep continuing to build from there on out. I think I’ll be pretty happy. In five years, hopefully I’ll be on a second contract and then be one of the household names in the NFL.”