There were moments in the preseason when Ronald Darby looked like an overwhelmed rookie not ready for NFL Sundays. The real games began and it was obvious Darby belonged.
The Buffalo Bills' second-round pick was one bright spot on a defense that took a step backward and, on Tuesday, he was named to the Pro Football Writers of America's All-Rookie Team. In 15 games this season, Darby recorded 69 tackles, two interceptions and a team-record 21 pass break-ups. The 21 break-ups were also the fourth-most in the NFL.
Darby's ability to shadow receivers 1 on 1 meant the Bills a.) rarely needed to give him extra help and b.) didn't need No. 1 CB Stephon Gilmore to follow opponents' No. 1 wide receivers. During the summer, the Bills were planning on Gilmore tracking No. 1's but didn't need to. Darby played on the left side of the field with Gilmore on the right. And the vet Gilmore has been a key to the rookie's success.
So the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Darby is the first rookie to make the PFWA list since linebacker Kiko Alonso in 2013.
He did not win the PFWA's defensive rookie of the year honor. That went to Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters. St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley was the offensive rookie of the year.
Coach Rex Ryan has never held back on his praise of Darby, from August to January.
"Probably, in my opinion, (he) will be the defensive rookie of the year," Ryan said at one point. "I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It’s funny because we went to…You know we were playing Kansas City and they have a really good corner. He had given up seven touchdowns. Where our guy hadn’t given up any. He’s given up two, I think, lately. But some of it’s amazing. But it’s hard to play in corner in this league. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But this guys, he’s up for the task. I love the fact that he leans on Steph. Using Steph. Another great talent and through the years how he developed, and how he studies and all that. I think that’s a great thing for him.
"It takes a rare individual to be able to go out there on corner and especially play as much man as we do. I mean it’s him versus whoever he’s up against and that’s it. And yet he’s up for that challenge week in, and week out."
In addition to this, Darby was named Pro Football Focus' defensive rookie of the year.
Here's how the analytics site broke his season down...
Darby wasn’t the most heralded cornerback from this draft class heading into the season, and with another rookie leading the league in interceptions and pass breakups, it’s fair to say that he isn’t really getting the credit he deserves at the end of the year. In all honesty, we didn’t see a better performance by a rookie all year, though. Darby stepped right in and started from day one, instantly becoming Buffalo’s best cover corner.
He allowed just four touchdowns all season, all of which came in a two-game span against the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. Darby allowed just 660 receiving yards throughout the year, he was tied for fifth amongst cornerbacks with 13 pass breakups, and finished the year with the ninth-highest coverage grade for corners. There is still plenty of room for Darby to grow, with just two interceptions over the course of the year, and a reception of 20 yards or more allowed in six games in 2015. Nevertheless, it was an impressive rookie campaign that has Bills fans eager for the future, and rightfully so.