The career totals were impressive: 106 starts. 391 assists. 214 steals.
But those were Quinten Rollins’ basketball stats from a standout career at Miami (Ohio) University. And while they speak to his tremendous athletic ability, they’re not why he was the 62nd overall player taken in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
These are the numbers that will have the 5-foot-11, 203-pounder competing for playing time in the Packers’ secondary: 72 tackles, seven interceptions, four tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and 16 passes defensed. They were impressive enough to earn Rollins’ MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
They’re also career totals. Because 2014 was the one and only season Rollins’ played college football – after his hoops eligibility with the RedHawks was used up. And it was his first year playing defensive back full-time after a prep career at Wilmington (Ohio) High School, where he played mostly running back.
“There’s a lot of things that kind of translate, especially on the defensive end,” Rollins said. “Me being a ‘1’ (point guard) and having to guard relatively quick point guards, my lateral quickness and keeping guys in front like you do in man coverage, and then being a point guard and having to see the whole floor kind of allows me to have natural instincts in zone coverage. If you can do that as a point guard, you can kind of do that in football and see what’s going to happen before it happens just by what formation they come out in, and doubles, splits, things like that I can read more. So I’d say a bunch of things correlate, but I’d say there are some differences, too."
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt was quick to bring all the hoops hype into perspective.
“I know everybody wants to focus on the basketball aspect and I understand how exciting that is for the fans, but I really didn’t watch him play basketball,” Whitt said. “I watched what he did on the football field, and that’s the only thing that I care about.
“He has rare ball skills. That is something special. The ability to go get it. But this is a hard game and he’s going to have some challenges when he gets on this level, which all guys do. You know, corner is a hard position to come in and play as a rookie. I think there’s one in the past 10 years -- one rookie cornerback that made the Pro Bowl. I think that zero have been voted Rookie of the Year — Casey (Hayward of Green Bay) and the kid from St. Louis (Janoris Jenkins) and one other kid were the only ones to get votes for Defensive Rookie of the Year in the past 10 years.”
It was a Baltimore Ravens scout that saw Rollins on the hardwood and encouraged him to return to the gridiron. After four years away from the game, the adjustment wasn’t as easy as Rollins thought it would be. But it didn’t take him long to shake off the rust.
“The first day was definitely rough,” Rollins said. “Me being the competitor I am, I expected to walk out there and still do the same things I was doing on the high school football field. And that didn’t happen. The offense gets away with a bunch of crap and I’m sitting there saying to the coaches, ‘That has to be pass interference.’ They were throwing me to try to get open. It wasn’t called, and that’s when I had to learn it’s an offensive game.
“But then, I got my feet under me, and then it was just a matter of getting better from there. As far as the team, I knew some of the guys from around campus, so it wasn’t that big of an adjustment. A coach and maybe a couple of the guys were like, “What’s this basketball guy doing here?’ But I ended up winning their respect with my work ethic. I came in and, I’m not a boastful guy. I wasn’t all full of myself. I was just trying to be a part of the team and get better and work hard with the guys.”
Improvement will be expected from Rollins, who director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst said has the ability to play cornerback or safety. But the opportunity will be there in a secondary that lost starting cornerback Tramon Williams and reserve Davon House, is undecided on veteran defensive back Jarrett Bush, and added Arizona State rookie Damarious Randall in the first round.
“He got hot late in the fall,” Gutekunst said of Rollins’ meteoric rise from obscurity to second-round selection. “Our scouts saw him and really liked him. So I went in there in November, I think, and he was really, really impressive. Great-looking kid, great body, good length, great ball skills.
“He’s a very natural athlete. Things come fairly easy to him in that sense. (He’s got good) spatial awareness, the ability to bend, he’s a very, very fluid athlete. Certainly it’s not the same as having four, five years of football, but maybe there’s some advantages to that, too, because we’re going to get him and train him the way we want to train him.”
Rollins is looking forward to it. And if he could be this good after just one year of college football, there’s no telling what his ceiling can be in the NFL.
“I’m not coming in thinking I’m polished or anything,” Rollins said. “I need to work on everything, including my ball skills. Even though that’s I think one of the solid points of my game. I need to work on everything from A to Z and I can’t wait to get to work.”