When Eagles corner Ronald Darby became a free agent, I was hoping the Redskins would at least sniff around. When I voiced my desire for this to happen, many fans were reluctant to see past his inconsistencies and injuries - and look, I get it. Availability is the biggest ability in the NFL, and Darby has missed a total of 20 games over his last three seasons in Philadelphia.
When the Redskins signed Darby for one year, $3 million(up to $4m with incentives) last week, fan opinion was very mixed.
I am cautiously optimistic however, that he can perform at a high level and fill the void at outside cornerback that was left when Quinton Dunbar was traded to the Seahawks for a fifth round pick.
Darby went to high school at nearby Potomac in Oxon Hill, MD. He was a four-star football recruit coming out of high school and also was a bronze medalist in the 200m dash at the 2011 World Youth Track and Field Championship. He attended Florida State University, and entered the 2015 NFL Draft as a Junior, where he was selected in the second round (50th overall) by the Buffalo Bills.
Prior to the draft, Darby put on a show at the combine, posting a 4.38 40-yard dash with a blistering 1.53 10 yard split, a 41 1⁄2 inch vertical and 4.14 short shuttle. He checked in at 5’11” 193 pounds.
Darby started 15 games for the Bills as a rookie, and had a combined 68 tackles, 21 passes defended and two interceptions. He was named Pro Football Focus’ Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The following season, he missed two games with injury (hamstring and concussion), but started 14 contests, registering 69 total tackles and 12 passes defended.
In the summer of 2017, the Bills traded Darby to the Eagles in exchange for Jordan Matthews and a third round pick.
His time with the Eagles has been marred with injuries, including a dislocated ankle (2017), torn ACL (2018) and a hip injury (2019). There is an absolute concern about his durability, but when healthy, the 26 year old can flat out play.
Darby is best in man coverage where he can use his exceptional speed in hip-trail or off-man looks. Below you’ll see an example of this as he runs step-for-step with speedster Terry McLaurin. Although Darby didn't make the play due to an exceptional effort by McLaurin, he was in almost perfect position.
Here is the slow-mo close-up version of the play above.
Here you see Darby on off-man against Paul Richardson Jr., another wide receiver with excellent speed. He maintains good discipline to not get beat by the double move, and plays great inside leverage coverage.
The one thing you’ll see, like the clip above, is that he’s in almost perfect position, but can’t quite make a play on the ball.
This next look appears to be a cover 3 or match-up zone. Darby reads both the tight ends body and the quarterback’s eyes, and gets a great jump on this deflection. It’s almost like he’s baiting Case Keenum to throw this football. This should have been an easy interception. And again, not to sound like a broken record, but making plays on the football are a bit concerning in these clips - although his positioning and technique are nearly perfect.
Here is the same play from a different angle.
Finally, you see Darby in the clip below essentially running the post route for Paul Richardson, giving Keenum nowhere to go with the football.
I chose the Redskins week one game to look at for a few reasons. First, there was not a lot of tape on our young receiving corps at the time, and we did have a decent offensive showing with Case under center. Second, everyone was pretty healthy during week one, so you get to see both teams and their players at full strength. Finally, I wanted to give the fans some perspective of how good Darby can be against true speed guys - which you saw in both McLaurin and Richardson. As you all know, this is an area our secondary has definitely struggled in lately; especially the Josh Norman years.
Overall, I think Darby bring something unique to this team at outside corner, and that’s something we haven’t had much of lately - speed and athleticism. The concern remains around his availability. Will we get the Bills version(where he started 29 of a possible 32 games) or the Eagles version the past three seasons?
Either way, this is a one-year, prove-it deal for the 26 year old corner.