In terms of athletic ability, Denver Broncos rookie cornerback Bradley Roby is second to none in this year’s crop of young players coming into the league. In terms of NFL-readiness? That’s another question entirely, but one that should be answered sooner rather than later.
Of course, not many rookie cornerbacks are given a tougher crash course into the league than Roby, who has been working frequently with the Broncos’ first defensive unit and going up against Peyton Manning. According to DenverBroncos.com’s Andrew Mason, Roby’s work against Manning has significantly improved, even though the future Hall of Famer still often gets the best of him.
“It can be frustrating because you can be in great coverage and he’ll still stick it in there where only the receiver can get it,” Roby said. “But it only helps because in the season, those guys aren’t going to put it on there like he does. He’s a Hall of Famer, one of the greats of all time.
“So going against him, making plays against him is giving me more confidence to go against other guys.”
Heading into the first pre-season game, that kind of confidence is going to need to be on full display. I’m on the record as saying Roby is a dark-horse defensive rookie of the year candidate. He’s playing on one of the best defenses (thus far, on paper) in the NFL, and is going to get a lot of balls thrown his way with an opportunity to make plays.
I think Roby could lead the league among rookies in interceptions.
For that to happen, his confidence is going to have to grow in practice daily, and Mason’s report definitely leads me to believe that’s what’s happening.
With Chris Harris returning to full speed, Aqib Talib proving why he’s considered one of the best true #1 corners in the game, and the emergence of Kayvon Webster this offseason, Roby’s snaps could be fewer than I’m anticipating at the start of the season, but in the pre-season, with Harris out and Talib likely not playing much, Roby will have a chance to earn a lot of trust with the coaches by making plays on the ball.
Of course, there will be jitters, but Roby is a talented young man who, despite his faults at Ohio State, was someone who flashed shutdown, #1 cornerback capabilities. And that’s what the Broncos drafted him to be.
Sitting at pick #31, no one in the Broncos’ war room felt like Roby — with his size and athletic ability — would be there at that pick. It wasn’t a pressing need, but a need nonetheless as you can never have enough guys who know how to create takeaways.
As a rookie in the NFL, it’s easy to take a few licks and never recover. Heck, that’s probably ended more than a few careers in this league. But Roby knows going up against Manning every single day at practice that you have to have a short memory, and you can’t stop being aggressive. That’s the kind of mentality I saw from Roby at Ohio State, and that’s already starting to show up with the Broncos after the first few jitters of his rookie camp.
Going up against the World Champs won’t be an easy task on Thursday night, but none will. Quarterbacks will be targeting Roby given the rest of the talent on the Broncos’ defense, and rest assured, he’ll have moments where we’re all left scratching our heads. But the Broncos’ early inclusion of Roby into the first unit defensively is a major indicator to me that the coaches are priming him for snaps when the stage is the biggest.
For a rookie, there’s none bigger than your first game. For now, it appears as though Roby is ready.