Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Ohio State football coaches are currently working hard to recruit incoming freshmen to fill out the team’s roster for next season, but the Buckeyes got their most important commitment from a current member of the team on Saturday.
OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby, a second-team Associated Press All-American this season, told The Columbus Dispatch on Saturday he will return to OSU next season rather than declare for the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Buckeyes figure to be among the top contenders for next year’s BCS National Championship Game, and Roby’s return increases the likelihood of that possibility.
Although banned from the postseason, OSU became one of the nation’s best teams in 2012, winning all 12 of its regular-season games. A big reason for the team’s success was Roby, who blossomed into one of the nation’s best cornerbacks under coach Urban Meyer and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.
On a consistent basis throughout the season, Roby matched up in one-on-one coverage against the opposing team’s best wide receiver – and shut his opponent down.
Roby consistently showed his ball skills and playmaking ability too. With 19 passes defended in 11 games, Roby had a rate of 1.73 passes defended per game, the best rate in the nation according to cfbstats.com. He also scored three total touchdowns, one each on an interception return, fumble return and punt block return.
The Buckeyes’ pass defense was very shaky at times during the 2012 season. They gave up 243.5 passing yards per game, ranking just 78th nationally in yards allowed, and gave up 32 passing plays of 20 yards or more according to cfbstats.com. Those shortcomings, however, were rarely a result of mistakes by Roby. When targeted during a game, Roby has proven to be far more likely to come up with a big play than the opposing receiver.
The Buckeyes already had a number of key players from this year’s defense not returning next season. Second-team AP All-American defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins declared for the draft as a junior, while six senior starters graduated, including defensive end John Simon, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and linebackers Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren.
None of those losses, however, will hurt the Buckeyes next season as much as losing Roby would have.
Returning safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, who will both be seniors next season, are physically-gifted playmakers but inconsistent in deep pass coverage. Roby was the Buckeyes’ only consistently strong performer in the secondary this season, and with fellow cornerback Travis Howard lost to graduation, the Buckeyes would have had to replace both of their starting cornerbacks.
With Roby’s return, what could have been an area of major concern looks like a strength for the Buckeyes. He will lead a talented trio of returning starters in the secondary, while OSU has numerous talented young players to compete for the other starting cornerback spot.
Sophomore Doran Grant showed promise as the team’s nickel cornerback this season and freshman Armani Reeves is a gifted young talent at the position too. Defensive backs Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, both rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com and Scout.com, are enrolling early this semester as incoming freshmen.
By making the decision to return to OSU, Roby surpassed the opportunity to be a first-round pick in this year’s draft. He was expected to be the third cornerback selected in the 2013 Draft, following Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Mississippi State’s Jonathan Banks. Even so, his decision to return could result in personal dividends.
By coming back and making OSU’s national championship chances stronger, he puts himself in position to potentially leave Columbus with a championship ring, even if he declares for the 2014 Draft.
In the process, Roby could go from being one of the top cornerbacks in college football to the best at his position.
Assuming Milliner declares for the draft as a junior, both first-team AP All-American cornerbacks and all three Jim Thorpe Award finalists from this season will have moved on to the NFL, leaving the door wide open for Roby to be college football’s top defensive back.
Roby will have plenty of competition to be the top cornerback drafted in 2014, including Florida sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy. But Roby made significant development in his play between his freshman and sophomore seasons, and could do so again as a junior.
By returning to school, Roby takes the risk of having a disappointing season and having his draft stock fall as a result. That risk, however, comes with big potential rewards: the chance to be the best cornerback in the nation, and perhaps most lucrative of all, the chance to help lead the Buckeyes to their first national championship since 2002.