The sophistication of the NFL passing game enables savvy offensive coordinators to exploit mismatches on the perimeter. Play callers will use an assortment of motions and tricky formations to pit their top receiver against an overmatched defender in a one-on-one situation. To combat these tactics, NFL scouts are canvassing the college landscape looking for big, athletic corners with exceptional cover skills and superb instincts.
Heading into the fall, Ohio State CB Bradley Roby was rated as the premier player at his position, with most NFL scouts touting the 5-foot-11, 192-pound redshirt junior as a potential "shutdown" corner at the next level. He entered the season coming off a spectacular sophomore campaign in which he finished as the only defender in the nation to score a touchdown three different ways (recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone vs. Miami; he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone vs. Indiana; and recorded a pick-six score vs. Nebraska) and totaled 17 pass breakups as the Buckeyes' No. 1 corner. Most importantly, Roby exhibited all of the athletic traits and fundamental skills to become a difference maker at the next level.
However, an early-season suspension due to a disorderly conduct charge in the offseason and reports of inconsistencies in his play during the first half of the season has led to questions about his impact potential in the NFL. Given the questions arising about Roby's game and potential, I thought I would dig into the all-22 coaches' tape to see where the All-American stands in his development. Here are my thoughts:
Roby is unquestionably one of the most explosive athletes in college football. He has reportedly clocked times in the 4.3-seconds range in the 40-yard dash, while also exhibiting exceptional change-of-direction quickness and burst on the perimeter. Roby's movement skills, turns and transitions are near the top of the athletic spectrum, which makes him a very desirable prospect for defensive coordinators looking for a No. 1 corner. Additionally, Roby shows outstanding leaping ability contesting receivers on 50/50 balls down the field. Given the dominance of big-bodied receivers at the NFL level, Roby's combination of size, speed and athleticism makes him a borderline elite candidate.
Roby is one of the few corners in college football with speed, athleticism and versatility to blanket receivers in press or "off" coverage. He is tough and tenacious at the line of scrimmage in bump-and-run coverage. He overwhelms receivers with stiff jams at the line, before falling into hip pocket position down the field. Roby does a solid job of funneling receivers to his help and his keen awareness of hash-split rules stands out when I watch him play.
In "off" coverage, Roby shows polished footwork and movement skills. He is explosive getting out of his breaks, and combines his natural athleticism with strong instincts. Although some observers have cited Wisconsin WR Jared Abbederis' big performance (10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown) as an example of Roby lacking the cover skills to thrive as a No. 1 corner at the next level, I believe the performance wasn't nearly as bad as reported. Abbederis is a legitimate NFL prospect with terrific ball skills, and he made a few spectacular catches despite Roby being in ideal position. Sure, an elite corner should be able to make some of those plays, but in a game pitting top prospects should see each guy win their fair share of battles.
Roby exhibits solid ball skills and awareness in coverage. He has a knack for getting his hands on the ball, and is aggressive going for interceptions when he is proper position. Now, Roby has lost a few battles on 50/50 balls this season, but the fact that he has seven career interceptions and 29 career breakups suggest that he understands how to make plays on the ball.
It's so hard to find cornerbacks willing to come up and tackle on the perimeter. Most cover corners are reluctant to mix it up when running backs get to the edges, but Roby is ultra-aggressive as a tackler and doesn't hesitate throwing his body around. He attacks runners at their thigh pads and his sure tackling makes him a valuable commodity on teams that count on their cornerbacks in run support. Additionally, Roby's solid tackling on the edge neutralizes bubble screens and helps the Buckeyes take away the favorite high-percentage throw of most offensive coordinators.
Cornerbacks must exhibit short-term memory to be effective at the highest level. NFL quarterbacks and receivers are too good to shut out consistently, so scouts value cornerbacks who are able to bounce back from poor plays. Roby has shown evaluators throughout his career that he doesn't back down from challenges nor alter his game when an opponent snatches a ball or two in his area. He continues to compete aggressively, and that resiliency allows him to make plays later in games. Against Wisconsin, Roby certainly showed off his confidence and fortitude by bouncing back from a few bad plays against Abbederis to snag a big interception in the game. He also continued to battle against the NFL-caliber receiver despite Wisconsin repeatedly throwing the ball in his direction. Given the importance of not shrinking under the pressure of facing a steady barrage of throws, Roby's mental toughness and unshakable confidence should earn him high marks from NFL scouts down the road.
Roby entered the season as the premier cover corner in college football. While he has suffered through some struggles early in the season, I still believe his combination of size, speed and athleticism is unrivaled at the position. Factor in his solid set of cover skills and strong competitive mentality, he is still worthy of a Day 1 draft grade at this point of the season.