The Buffalo Bills finished the 2016 NFL Season with an 8-8 record, marking the 16th consecutive season in which they’ve missed the playoffs. However, their young core players provide hope for the future. Here at Building the Herd, we’ll be reviewing the play of the rookies taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. First, we’ll start with cornerback Ronald Darby.
Ronald Darby was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft at No. 50 overall and was the seventh cornerback selected. Coming out of Florida State University, there were questions surrounding Darby’s ball-skills, awareness and understanding of route concepts. Those concerns were proven early in the preseason, as Darby got off to a rough start.
In the team’s first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, Darby was out-muscled for a touchdown on a fade route in the endzone.
Darby finished the preseason allowing eight receptions on 12 targets (66.7%) for 179 yards and a touchdown.
This was a common theme throughout the preseason, as he finished allowing eight receptions on 12 targets (66.7%) for 179 yards and a touchdown. With Leodis McKelvin injured, fans were worried about how the young rookie would fare in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts, a team with huge expectations heading into the season.
But, when the games finally mattered, Darby was ready. In his first professional game, Darby was matched up with T.Y. Hilton, one of the fastest and best wideouts in the National Football League. Darby did allow five receptions in the game, but three of them came in zone coverage on short passes where he was able to prevent any additional yards-after-catch. He played tight man coverage, breaking up two passes and recording his first interception.
In his first three games, teams tested Darby early and often, as the Colts, Patriots and Dolphins targeted him a combined 29 times. Darby was up for the challenge, allowing just 14 receptions for 149 yards (27 yards-after-catch) and didn’t allow a touchdown.
With each passing game, Darby got better and better—showing the ability to run with any receiver, track the ball in the air and maintain leverage on his man. He showed a knack for breaking on underneath routes and wrapping up receivers to prevent additional yards to be gained, as you can see here.
Throughout the year, Darby was tasked with covering some of the best wide receivers in the league: Odell Beckham Jr., AJ Green, Allen Robinson, Deandre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Jeremy Maclin and Julian Edelmn among others. For a rookie, that’s a tough task but Darby battled with each and every one of them.
Here, Darby shows off some physicality and breaks up a pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr.
Here, Darby breaks up a pass on a deep go route to Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Allen Robinson.
As DJ Khaled would say: Another One
Ronald Darby finished the season as ProFootballFocus’ No. 8 overall cornerback and was named their Defensive Rookie of the Year, despite being snubbed by the PFWA and AP’s voting in favor of fellow rookie cornerback Marcus Peters.
In his 15 game rookie campaign, Darby was targeted 104 times—the third-most of any cornerback in the league, with seven games seeing six or more targets and six games of at least eight. He allowed just 57 catches (54.8%) for just 660 yards (11.5 yards-per-catch) and only 189 yards-after-the-catch. Opposing quarterbacks posted a mere 79.0 passer rating (158.3 is the highest) when targeting him.
Darby surrendered just six receptions of 20+ yards while allowing only four touchdowns on the year—without allowing one until week 12. He broke up 21 passes, the fifth-most in the NFL, while having seven games with at least two passes defensed.
Ronald Darby’s development as a rookie was incredible to watch, especially when you take his preseason outings into consideration. With each week, you saw a more confident and fearless defender that was growing into his own.
Darby’s rookie campaign put the league on notice and at just 22-years old, the future looks bright for this young, talented player. With Stephon Gilmore opposite him, the Bills appear to have one of the best cornerback tandems in the National Football League.