So, just how good is Darby anyway? In order to answer that question and others, I reached out to our friends at Buffalo Rumblings. Jeff Hunter (@MrJeffHunter) was kind enough to give us a Bills perspective on the Eagles’ newest cornerback. Check out my Q&A with him below.
1) How are Bills fans reacting to this trade? How do they feel about losing Darby? How do they feel about getting Jordan Matthews and a 2018 draft pick?
It's hard to consider this trade in a vacuum, because the Sammy Watkins-to-LA deal came together at the same time and complimented this trade so closely (GM Brandon Beane said as much as his presser about the deals). On that note, it's been hard to unpack the sentiment around Darby because all of the thunder is going to Watkins. Darby was pretty much locked in to be the number one cornerback, and he really hadn't seen much press during the offseason one way or the other. Throw in the fact that he's not due to hit free agency for another two years, and it's really just a huge shock. Nobody saw this one coming.
As far as the return, Matthews seems like a productive receiver but it's hard to tell where he'll fit with the Bills. Given that the team just signed Anquan Boldin last week, and Zay Jones didn't see much action in the loss to the Vikings on Thursday, it's hard to know what to expect because nobody's sure what he'll be doing besides catching passes. The draft pick, on the other hand, is what really has the fans chattering. After the trades, the Bills will have two picks in each of the first three rounds (as well as the chance to land a compensatory third with some clever roster maneuvers). Beane and Sean McDermott (McBeane, if you will) would never admit to a tank, and the roster seems somewhat competitive for 2017, but these moves were clearly about the future and the third-round pick is a big part of that.
2) What are Darby’s strengths?
Darby is what I'd call a low-key lockdown corner; he's not going to get an island named after him, but he's capable of keeping just about any receiver out there in check. He's always been great at breaking up passes, and he's a solid tackler. He was a contender for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award that went to Marcus Peters a couple years ago, and nobody was really worried about his ability to take over for Stephon Gilmore as the team's top cornerback.
3) What are Darby’s weaknesses?
The general assumption that's come out of the trade is that Darby wasn't a fit for McDermott's defense, which usually uses a Cover 3 scheme and relies heavily on zone coverage. Rex Ryan's defense was very man-based, which suited Darby's physicality. It's also worth noting that, while he does have 33 pass breakups in two seasons, he only has two interceptions, both in 2015. A few of those pass breakups could have been interceptions in a different corner's hands (not necessarily better, but different)
4) It seems like Darby had more success in 2015 than he did last year. Is that accurate? Any reason for that?
It's right on the nose to say that Darby regressed in 2016, but it's hard to say exactly why. The Bills struggled with safety play last year to a huge extent, but even Darby was struggling to hold on to his job near the end of the year. He suffered a concussion and missed a game in December, but his problems were around well before that. I hate to throw out cliches like "sophomore slump," but it's still kind of a mystery and something that could easily right itself moving forward.
5) Do you believe Darby can be a good starting cornerback in the NFL? What’s his ceiling? Is he a No. 1 cornerback? One of the better starting corners in the league?
Darby is a clear-cut number one corner on many rosters, and if he weren't he'd be one of the best number two corners in the league. The only thing holding him back from real prominence (aside from the aforementioned slump) is his inability to convert pass breakups into interceptions. If he can start hanging on to the ball, he's a Pro Bowler.
6) To the best of your knowledge, what’s your impression of Darby off the field?
Darby seems like a pretty nice guy. He shouldn't be a troublemaker or anything like that, and he was active in the community in Buffalo from what I've seen. He can speak his mind on Twitter sometimes (@realronalddarby), but nothing incendiary.