A year ago at this time, I defended a third-year player coming off a poor season. Davante Adams proved me right by catching 70 passes for 997 yards and 12 TDs in 2016. Today, I’ll be defending another third-year player coming off a poor season – one whom I’m every bit as confident will prove me right again.
People like to compare Adams and Damarious Randall, but the much more apt comparison is to Quinten Rollins. Both players were second-round picks. Both players rely more on technique than great physical talent. Both players were bothered by leg injuries in their disappointing second seasons. And most importantly, both players showed enough as rookies to make it clear they have what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
While Randall, the team’s No. 1 pick a few months earlier, was getting all the hype in the summer of ’16, I remember being more impressed with Rollins. The former hoops star didn’t move as well as Randall and he didn’t make as many splash plays, but he was much more consistent. Pedestrian young wide receivers who would beat Randall had almost no chance against the more physical and more technically sound Rollins.
I’m not a big fan of using injuries as an excuse to explain a player’s failings, but in some cases, physical issues simply can’t be ignored. Adams is one such example and Rollins is another. Neither player is skilled enough to consistently win one-on-one battles at less than full strength. That was, pardon the pun, painfully obvious with Adams (sprained ankle) in 2015 and with Rollins in 2016. Not surprisingly, both players eventually lost their confidence – which manifested itself in way too many dropped passes and blown coverages.
In the case of Rollins, who missed three games in October with a nagging groin injury that would require offseason surgery, that loss of confidence led to tentative play. Rather than just reacting, you could almost see him thinking as the ball was being snapped. That’s obviously no way to play cornerback in the NFL.
In contrast, Rollins showed good eyes, anticipation and ball skills as a rookie. He also diagnosed plays quickly, jumped routes and tackled surely in the open field. I found it uncanny considering he didn’t even play football until his senior year at Miami of Ohio. Heck, the ex-point guard was still more comfortable defending against a pick and roll than a pick play. Even his lack of ideal top-end speed didn’t overly concern me back then. I figured his feel for the game would compensate – much like it did for Casey Hayward.
Here are just two of many examples that show the difference between a healthy Rollins and a not so healthy Rollins. He’s going up against the same team. He’s on the same field. He’s even lined up in the same spot. But he’s not the same player. In the first video from 2015, Rollins covers Golden Tate like a blanket. In the second video from last January, Rollins is no match for Marvin Jones, an inferior wide receiver.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I just can’t imagine the impressive rookie I saw in 2015 failing again in 2017. In fact, if healthy, the only thing I see stopping Rollins from having a productive season is his own coaching staff. My hunch is that Randall, top pick Kevin King and veteran Davon House will be given the majority of the snaps in training camp, leaving Rollins with fewer opportunities to shine. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s used primarily on special teams early in the season. But I would be shocked if that’s still the case in November.