Name: Bradley Roby
Height: 5’11" Weight: 194 lbs
Age: 25 Experience: 4th
College: Ohio State
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It is for this reason that I would suggest Bradley Roby is one of the most important members of the No Fly Zone.
When you have the two best cornerbacks in the league in your secondary, the third cornerback is often the most picked on, especially when your defensive scheme relies on man to man coverage as much as Denver’s does. As Roby goes, so goes the secondary.
Chirs Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby make one good trio of cornerbacks for the Denver Broncos. pic.twitter.com/fRMZ4BOQPi— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 24, 2017
It’s no coincidence, when Roby had an excellent season in 2015, the Broncos' secondary was absolutely dominant with few “off” games. Alternatively, while Denver's secondary was still top in the league in 2016, and in some metrics outperformed last year’s squad, there were a few games where coverage lapsed in crucial moments; specifically the Oakland and Kansas City games, but we'll talk more about that in a minute.
Roby racked up 39 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 2 pick-sixes in 2016.
The Broncos are extremely fortunate to have as talented a 3rd corner as Roby. We say it often, but that’s because it’s true: Roby would be a starting cornerback on the majority of NFL teams.
Even though he’s not technically a “starter”, Roby has contributed on over 50% of possible defensive snaps every season. Additionally, Roby has played in every possible game (48 regular season + 4 post-season) since joining the Broncos in 2014.
His athleticism and closing speed is the best in Denver’s secondary and among some of the top in the league. He’s a lock-down defender in man coverage, and allows Denver a lot of flexibility with their pressure packages, with his ability to shut down guys from the slot or outside.
I also love his play-making ability. Whether it is scooping and scoring a crucial fumble like the KC game in 2015, or getting a key pick six, like the win against San Diego in 2016, Roby always seems to be around the ball and making big plays.
My favorite interception of his came in 2015 against Matt Staffo
In a word: consistency.
I alluded to it earlier, but Roby was wildy inconsistent from game-to-game in 2016. There were games where he played excellent coverage and came out as one of the top graded players on the team according to Pro Football Focus, and others where he was beat like a drum and exposed as the gaping hole in our secondary.
Two games from last year stick out to me. Week 9 against Oakland, and Week 12 against Kansas City. Both of these were big, primetime games against division opponents, and Roby shrank in the spotlight.
The Raiders game should slow any fan talk about trading or getting rid of Aqib Talib. Talib was hurt in that game and Roby started in his place, and the results were disastrous.
Bradley Roby has been targeted on 9 of the Raiders first 14 pass attempts. Allowed 5 completions for 70 yards. #DENvsOAK— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 7, 2016
Roby would finish the game giving up eight catches for 99 yards, and was absolutely outmatched against Amari Cooper. While the entire team got beat like a drum in that game, Roby’s performance sticks out as particularly rough.
The next game is that infamous play against Kansas City. You all know exactly which one I’m talking about (if the cover photo hadn’t clued you in already). 19 seconds left, 4th and 10 on the Denver 14, and Tyreek Hill beats Roby on an out route to pick up the first down. Kansas City would score the next play, send the game into overtime, and eventually win the game.
Two plays before that, Denver had a 94% chance of winning the game (according to ESPN’s win probability). After that play and subsequent touchdown (in which Hill again beat Roby), Kansas City had 55% chance of winning the game.
It’s been a topic of conversation nearly every time Roby’s name comes up, so I couldn’t do a roster review of him without looking at that play.
Let’s break down what’s happening here. Roby is in zone coverage on the outside, and Alex Smith does a great job of looking forward/right until the very last second before the throw, he snaps left and fires over to Hill. You can see the hitch in Roby’s step as he’s reading the QB and Travis Kelce’s curl route in front of him and is caught flatfooted when Smith turns to throw left, as Roby was expecting him to go to one of the other receivers based on Smith’s eyes.
Zone coverage, and reading plays is an area where Roby must improve if he is going to take his game to the next level.
A lot of folks have talked about the cushion that Roby gave Hill as being the problem, but I’m fine with the level of cushion he gives, as it is consistent with the rest of the secondary. The problem is he misreads Smith and is out of position to make a play on Hill’s route.
Which brings me to my next problem with this play, which I hadn’t noticed until I started digging into it.
I love Wade Phillips, but he absolutely blew it with this play call, in my opinion. Playing zone coverage across the board in this type of situation is just asking for what happened to happen.
All 5 defenders play zone a few yards behind the first down line. As you can see from the image above, Roby is actually the closest corner to the line of scrimmage.
The problem here is you have three receivers lined up on the left of the formation, and only two defenders to match them on that side of the field, while three defenders on the right, are matched up against one receiver, and one running back. We know Alex Smith is going to want to get the ball out quickly, and the Bronco are rushing six so they’re forcing him to.
The issue is, Kelce is going to run a curl route in between Roby and Harris on the left, and Alex Smith looks that way, which distracts Roby just enough to keep him from having the correct position on the route. Kansas City used the oldest trick in the book and flooded the zone coverage with too many defenders and ended up with both Kelce and Hill open at the time of the throw.
I’m not absolving Roby from responsibility at all here, but this is a terrible call, and set him up for failure. We can pick up this discussion more in the comments, but while I am obviously including this in the “bad” section for a reason, I am not worried about Roby based on this play.
His coach put him in a bad situation and he got beat. Would Talib or Harris have made that play, probably. Roby needs to learn and grow from not only that play, but the entirety of his 2016 campaign.
“Roby is a young corner that could be really, really special. He’s playing behind two Pro Bowl guys. From time to time, he has to push himself to continue to become what they are. That’s tough because on most teams, he would be a starter. To keep him going mentally and to keep him focused on his future, it’s important. He’s had a great spring. His last couple days have been really, really special.”
This next year is going to be the most important of Roby’s career. Denver has officially picked up his 5th year option ($8.5M), but could still potentially move on from him or trade him after this season, as they will have $30M committed to their three corner backs in 2018.
Ideally, I think they would like to sign him to a long term deal leading up to 2018 if this next season goes well, and just structure the cap hit to where the bulk of it hits after they anticipate Talib’s to come off the books.
Either way, Roby is playing for a lot of potential money this next season, and after last year’s inconsistent showing, I would be hesitant to give him a long-term deal until he shows he can hold his own as a #1 or #2 corner on the Broncos. The potential is all there for Roby to be a star, he just needs to take that next step this year to prove it.
If he does turn it on this coming season, look out.