With the 2015 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, Inside the Pylon’s Doctor of Defense Dave Archibald takes a look at New England’s newest cornerback, Darryl Roberts.
Contrary to pundits who speculated that the New England Patriots would use a high pick on a cornerback, New England didn’t turn to the position until the 247th overall, selection, with Darryl Roberts of Marshall. This surprised many, given the offseason departures of starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, integral pieces of the team’s Super Bowl XLIX Championship. Seventh-rounders like Roberts have an uphill climb to productive NFL careers, but there are reasons to believe the Thundering Herd corner is more than an afterthought.
The redshirt senior was not chosen to participate in the NFL Combine, or in the postseason All-Star games, but it is not readily apparent why. He was named to the All-Conference-USA First Team, leading C-USA with 17 passes defensed as part of the Herd’s conference championship squad. At 5’11”, he has adequate height, and his athleticism showed both on the track and on tape.
Tale of the Tape
The chart below shows Roberts’s measurement and performance in his pro day drills, as well as the percentile rank of how these figures stack up to cornerbacks at the Combine since 1999:
|Height||Weight||40-Yard||Bench Press||Vertical||Broad Jump||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
Data from NFLDraftScout.com and NFLCombineResults.com
It’s not clear that we should take pro day results as seriously as Combine results, but Roberts’s across-the-board excellence means that it doesn’t matter if we discount his numbers a little. He would have had one of the best 40 times at the Combine and also boasted fine marks in the agility drills. He showed explosion in both leaping tests, and to top it off his 23 bench reps would have finished second among Combine CBs. He’s clearly an above-average athlete.
Relative to his peers, Roberts is a touch shorter and lighter than desired, but his size is still sufficient to play on the outside. Additionally, at 24 years old, he is old for a rookie.
What He Does Well
Note: only two full-game cut-ups of Roberts’s play are publicly available, so this analysis should not be considered complete.
Defending the Deep Ball
As his 40 times showed, Roberts is very fast, and has the speed to stay with receivers on vertical routes downfield.
In this play from December’s Boca Raton Bowl, Roberts (#7) lines up across from Northern Illinois receiver Da’Ron Brown (#4, also a seventh-round pick Saturday). Roberts backpedals a few steps, gives a quick jam, and then flips into bail position to run up the sideline with the senior receiver. The combination of the jam, and Roberts’ positioning, forces Brown close to the sideline, leaving only a tiny window for the quarterback to complete the streak route. The speedy cornerback easily keeps pace with Brown and the pass falls harmlessly out of bounds.
Roberts followed Brown around for most of the game, switching sides and even playing in the slot when the receiver aligned there. For the season Brown tallied 1,065 receiving yards, more than double that of the Huskies’ number two receiver, but Roberts held him to just four catches for 63 yards and no touchdowns. His bowl performance speaks to his versatility and willingness to match up on top receivers.
Playing the Ball
College cornerbacks don’t defend 17 passes in a season by accident. Roberts showed a long reach and good timing to disrupt incoming passes.
In a key fourth down situation against Florida Atlantic, Roberts finds himself matched up against 6’6” tight end Nate Terry (#80). Terry has position and seven inches of height on Roberts, but the Herd cornerback times his leap perfectly and knocks the jump ball away to force a turnover on downs.
Roberts timed the swat effectively but other camera angles show him contacting Terry’s body a little early. Like many college cornerbacks, Roberts will need to adjust to NFL rules, with its stricter enforcement of illegal contact, holding, and pass interference penalties.
Areas to Improve
College cornerbacks frequently struggle to make tackles on running backs, but Roberts shows below-average run support skills, even compared to his peers.
Northern Illinois running back Cameron Stingily (#42) breaks into the second level on an outside run, with only Roberts standing in the way. Stingily cuts inside and the cornerback lunges at the back’s chest to try to haul him down. The 6’1”, 235-pound Stingily has no problem running through Roberts’s arm tackle.
His 23 bench reps suggest Roberts has the physical strength to be an effective tackler, but he often tries to wrap with his arms without delivering a blow. It is difficult to tell from film whether this is a technique issue or an aversion to physical play, but in any event it will need to be cleaned up on the NFL level. As a seventh-rounder, Roberts needs to show he can tackle to make the Patriots roster.
On the plus side, the Thundering Herd did use him in the kicking game, as he played the safety role on the kickoff unit.
Defending the Slant
Teams had trouble completing deep passes against Roberts, but had better luck with quick slants.
Roberts is again matched up on Northern Illinois’s Brown. The receiver drives right into the DB, defeating his jam and shoving him off balance. Brown makes a smooth cut inside and catches the ball in stride for a good gain before Roberts can haul him down.
Roberts shows the ability to jam effectively at times, but here he lets the receiver get too much into his body and his jam fails to disrupt the route. With his speed, Roberts can afford to cheat a little bit more to prevent the inside release.
Darius Butler. Roberts has similar size and measurables to the former Patriots draftee and current Colts slot cornerback. When Butler struggled in coverage, not atypical for a young defensive back, his inability to tackle or contribute on special teams made his stay in New England a short one. He serves as a cautionary tale for Roberts.
While few seventh-rounders have successful NFL careers, Roberts has an unusually good opportunity in a New England secondary full of question marks. Last year, undrafted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler made arguably the biggest play in NFL history to seal a Super Bowl victory. Roberts has the talent to follow in his footsteps and carve out a significant role with the defending champs, but first he will need to earn a roster spot through his willingness to play physically on defense and special teams.
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Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.
Footage courtesy of universaldraft and Adrian Ahufinger (@ahufinger7) of draftbreakdown.com.