Could Nickell Robey Emerge as Bills’ Nickel Cornerback?

Updated: August 16, 2013

Buffalo Bills’ 2012 fourth-round pick Ron Brooks is entering his second year with the team and is expected to be the nickel, or No. 3 cornerback. With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine stating that the team would be operating primarily out of nickel and dime packages, the No. 3 cornerback will be an important asset to the Bills’ 2013 defense.

While players like Brooks and third-year man Justin Rogers have the edge in terms of experience, undrafted rookie Nickell Robey, a 5’7” 165 pounder out of Southern California could be a sleeper to not only make the roster, but contribute immediately.

Robey went undrafted after an extremely productive collegiate career in which he racked up 163 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss, two sacks, seven interceptions (three were returned for touchdowns), 24 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. While Robey was widely viewed as a mid-round pick by many draft analysts, his size, or lack thereof, ultimately led to him going undrafted.

What Robey lacks in size, he makes up for with technique and attitude on the field. This was evident in the Bills’ first preseason contest against the Indianapolis Colts, where he recorded two tackles and returned three punts for 35 yards.  Robey allowed two receptions for 12 yards in the game.

Brooks, on the other hand, recorded three tackles and forced a fumble, but looked lost in coverage at times. According to ProFootballFocus, Brooks surrendered two receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown, allowing a passer rating of 149.3.

Brooks played just 162 snaps in his rookie season and was pretty inconsistent. He played very well when serving as a rotational player, but when thrown into a starting role against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was targeted early and often, allowing eight receptions for 81 yards and a score.

Brooks finished the 2012 season with 19 tackles, but broke up four passes. He has a lot of room to grow if he wants to see significant playing time.

While the combine numbers show that Brooks is the superior athlete to Robey (4.37 40-yard dash, 1.55 10 yard split, 12 bench press reps, 38” vertical leap to Robey’s 4.47 50-yard dash, 1.57 10-yard split, 10 bench reps, 37.5” vertical), he hasn’t shown anything to this point that really makes him worthy of garnering significant playing time.

Coach Pettine sounded pleased with Robey’s progress thus far, stating, “Nickell Robey has come in and done a real nice job. You can tell he (was) very well-coached in Southern California. He’s made big plays in big games. I don’t think it’ll be too big for him.”

With offenses beginning to use No. 1 receivers in the slot more and more, Robey’s size will be his biggest obstacle as he adjusts to the National Football League. However, if he’s able to rely on his technique, athleticism and ball-skills, Robey could eventually emerge as the Bills’ starting nickel cornerback in 2013.

The nickel cornerback job hasn’t received much attention this offseason, but this is a very intriguing battle to keep an eye on. With Pettine’s defenses operating out of multiple nickel sets, the No. 3 cornerback will likely be on the field for over 50% of the team’s defensive snaps.