PFF’s Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ronald Darby

Gordon McGuinness reveals PFF's choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and lists four runners-up to the award.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

PFF’s Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ronald Darby

The ability to come in and contribute right away might not be the end game on evaluating a rookie prospect, but it does give his team a much-needed boost, normally at a position of need. This year has seen several first-year players on both sides of the ball come in and make a large impact from day one. Here, we’re going to take a look at the top rookies on the defensive side of the ball—and this year’s winner wasn’t even selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.


Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills

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.

First runner-up

Leonard Williams, DI, New York Jets

Coming into the draft, we knew that USC’s Leonard Williams had a bright NFL future ahead of him as a run defender, but there was a concern that he lacked the ability to be disruptive as a pass rusher. His rookie season might not have been as dominant as rushing the quarterback, but he showed that it’s not a true weakness in his game either, registering four sacks, 19 hits, and 30 hurries in his debut season. Predictably, Williams’ real strength was against the run, and even as a rookie, we saw him prove to be far too much for some veteran offensive linemen in the league. Over the course of the year, he registered 35 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, the 14th-most of any defensive interior player this season.

Second runner-up

Byron Jones, DB, Dallas Cowboys

Dallas’ first-round draft pick showed his versatility in 2015, spending time at outside cornerback, in the slot, and at safety in the first year of his career. He was solid against the run, but it was his play in coverage that earned him a spot as a top-three defensive rookie, where he notched six pass breakups over the course of the year. The Cowboys had the foresight to uncover his versatility, and by the end of the season, Jones had played 249 snaps as an outside corner, 185 as a slot corner, 270 as a free safety, and 186 as a strong safety or extra linebacker in the box. With front offices now salivating for that chess piece player who can move all across the defensive backfield, Jones thrived in his varying role in the Cowboys’ defensive backfield.

Third runner-up

Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

From a statistical perspective, it might seem incredibly harsh that Peters, who leads the league with eight interceptions and 17 pass breakups, is only our third runner-up for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. While soaking in the stats, you have to take into consideration what he allowed in coverage. The former Washington Huskie gave up 939 receiving yards, the third-most of any cornerback in the league this season (not just rookies), and allowed the second most touchdowns in the league, with eight.

Both of these numbers are inflated and impacted because no cornerback in the league was targeted as often as Peters, who saw 137 passes thrown his way this year, and the truth of his performance is somewhere in the middle. He isn’t the best cornerback in the league because he had the most interceptions, and he’s certainly not the third-worst because he allowed 939 yards. His 2015 season, summed up, was a very solid first year in the league, and one from which he has a platform to become a household name.

Fourth runner-up

Adrian Amos, S, Chicago Bears

A fifth-round draft pick out of Penn State, Amos is the only player not drafted in the first two rounds of the draft to crack our top five this year. He stepped straight into the Bears’ starting lineup from day one, and played 1,046 snaps over the course of the year. A reliable player in coverage, Amos’ real strength was against the run, with 10 of his 25 tackles there resulting in a defensive stop. He added nine defensive stops in coverage, and notched a sack on one of his 10 pass rushing attempts, all adding up to a solid rookie season in Chicago.


For more PFF awards, visit the following pages:

All 2015 PFF Awards

Dwight Stephenson Award (best player in NFL)

Most Valuable Player

Offensive Player of the Year

Rookie of the Year

Comeback Player of the Year

Breakout Player of the Year

Most Improved Player of the Year

Best Pass Rusher

Best Run Defender

Best Coverage Defender

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • Kyle Ferguson

    Nice to see Byron Jones there. Haven’t heard anything of how he was doing at beginning of season.

  • prophetik

    can’t wait to see the tears from KC fans at how a zillion INTs gift-wrapped from terrible QBs makes for the best cornerback in the league.

    • 24AHAD

      Pff has said themselves Peters had been spectacular and better than Darby the last 8 games of the year. When he only gave up 1 td. If you think he’s not a future top 5 corner then you’re an idiot. Don’t hate, appreciate! Darby deserves this based on how pff grades.

      • Bob Barker

        I keep hearing this last 8 games thing out of KC fans. When did they change season long awards to solely reflect performance after a team’s bye week? Peters is good and could be great, but KC fans need to quit being so butt hurt over his season long grade. He sucked early, but began to put it together late. Nothing wrong with that for a rookie.

        • 24AHAD

          I understand how pff grades and why Darby is graded higher. I only replied to the above man’s ignorant comment, said nothing of any awards.

        • Chad Smotherman

          28 pass breakups, 8 ints,

    • Dollar Flipper

      I’ve never seen a KC fan saying that Peters is the best CB in the league. He’s above average, which for a rookie is pretty stinkin’ fantastic. He’s also improved over the season.

    • Kiimosabi

      gift wrapped, huh? Peters is miles better than Darby now, and will be his entire career.

    • 3Rensho

      Gift-wrapped? HAHA. It’s called AWARENESS…even if it was overthrown. He has the ability to read the WR and then turn his head…that’s how he’s making all these “gift-wrapped” INTs.

    • Chad Smotherman

      And at the end of the day GUESS who won the rookie of the year.. . . . . lol

  • dlund6cutler

    Amos helps but Bears still have safety problems.

  • Dollar Flipper

    I’d like to see Peters’ yards given up across the year. I feel like he was much worse early on.

  • Kiimosabi

    Hey fuckheads, why don’t you do some real research?

    “It is clear that Peters’ season enjoyed a watershed at the bye week, which came for Kansas City this year after Week 8. And opponents at this point in the season seem to be working from old information. Peters is still being targeted as often as ever, but his numbers have been better in every other category. Before the bye week, Peters averaged 5.4 receptions allowed from almost nine targets per game, for an average of 72.1 yards. After the bye, he is averaging just 3.6 receptions for 49.4 yards on the same nearly nine targets per game.

    Before the bye Peters was allowing 60.7 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be completed, for a passer rating of 101.7, but since the bye he is allowing just 41.4 percent for a passer rating of 25.7.

    All seven touchdowns that he has allowed this season came before the bye week, meaning that he hasn’t surrendered a score over the second half of the season, and yet over that same span he has five of his eight interceptions.”

    • Bob Barker

      So ROY awards are now handed out for performances after the bye week, not full seasons?

  • Dave

    And as I always say with PFF, good thing you don’t give out the awards. You guys suck lol. So you list 5 candidates for defensive rookie of the year and none of them are Kwon Alexander lol that tells me how much football you actually watch. He was one of the best LB’s in football on a per game basis. And I don’t mean one of the best for a rookie. One of the best, period. He’s 33rd among LB’ers in tackles with 93. 11th in sacks with 3. 3rd in PD’s with 11. Tied for 6th with 2 INT’s. Tied for 5th with 2 FF’s, and tied for 6th with 1 FR. Oh and btw he did all that while missing the final 4 games of the season. But no he’s not a DROY finalist, not at all lol

  • Cody Sams

    How the hell did Kwon not even make it as a runner up? He was definitely an outstanding rookie… And came out of nowhere. Nobody had super high expectations of him.

  • Josh Vargas

    Peters plays in a cover 3, which means he had to cover a side of a field, not an individual player. Thus, Peters had to cover WR1’s a lot. Darby played a blitz-man defense which means he usually covered the WR2. Big Difference.