The Washington Football Team strengthened its secondary by signing veteran cornerback Darryl Roberts.
The 30-year-old, do-it-all defender comes to Washington after spending last season in Detroit and the previous four with the New York Jets. In 67 career games (31 starts), he has recorded 203 tackles, 33 passes defensed, five tackles for a loss and four interceptions. Here are five things to know about Roberts:
1. His nickname is "Swagg."
Cornerbacks routinely give up catches, yards and touchdowns. That's just the nature of the position.
To overcome that, players need have unwavering confidence. Darryl "Swagg" Roberts has never had a problem with that.
"I remember us calling him that when he first came in as a freshman," Aaron Dobson, who played with Roberts at Marshall, told The Providence Journal in 2015. "It's been so long since I've been calling him that. It kind of stuck. He's always been Swagg to me."
"He had a swag about him and was always confident," added former Thundering Hurd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. "A cool customer, so to speak."
That mentality, combined with his ideal size (6-foot-1) and speed (4.38-second 40-yard dash time), has allowed Roberts to go from being one of the last picks in the 2015 NFL Draft to appearing in 67 games (31 starts) over the past five seasons. That is something his new position coach will appreciate.
"When you come in as one of those bottom picks -- sixth, seventh round or even a free agent -- you have a different chip on your shoulder," defensive backs coach Chris Harris, a sixth-round pick out of Louisiana-Monroe in 2005, said in August. "Coming in, having to earn a spot, never having anything given to you. You have to go take it. Having that mindset and being able to relate to those guys, that gives me a one-up in my coaching career. Having been a former player, a low-round draft pick, understanding what that grind looks like and what it takes to succeed at a high level coming from a smaller school."
2. He overcame some early-career uncertainty.
Roberts was breaking up passes throughout training camp and on his way to making the New England Patriots' 53-man roster when he injured his wrist during the first preseason game. After missing the rest of the preseason, Roberts was placed on Injured Reserve, his rookie campaign over before ever making his NFL debut.
Roberts never played a snap for the Patriots -- the team released him during final roster cuts in 2016 -- but he quickly caught on with the Jets and eventually found his way onto the field in Week 5. He would go on to play every game the rest of the season, tallying 21 tackles and six pass breakups. His advanced stats were even better.
3. He's a jack of all trades (in the secondary).
For proof of Roberts' versatility, look no further than his 2018 campaign with the Jets. After playing sparingly the first quarter of the season, Roberts started five games at cornerback in place of the injured Trumaine Johnson. Two weeks later, he stepped in at free safety with Marcus Maye sidelined and played the next five contests there.
"You never know when you're going to get your opportunity," Roberts told the New York Post in 2018, "but the only thing you can do is prepare for it and make sure you're ready when it presents itself."
Roberts admitted playing corner and safety are "kind of opposite," and he had not lined up at safety since college. But as a former seventh-round pick, he knew position flexibility would be his clearest path to playing time. So, once he learned the cornerback responsibilities in the Jets' system, he started taking notes on other positions.
Roberts ended up making a combined 20 starts in 2018 and 2019, recording 99 solo tackles, 13 pass breakups, a pair of interceptions and a three-year contract extension for his efforts.
4. He's a reliable tackler.
Jeremy Reaves was by far the team's best tackler among defensive backs last season, according to Pro Football Focus, but his success came with a limited sample size. Aside from Reaves, only Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller received tackling grades of at least 71.0, while contributors Landon Collins, Kamren Curl, Jimmy Moreland and Fabian Moreau all finished below 56.0.
Luckily, help is on the way with the additions of Roberts and William Jackson III. Like Jackson, Roberts has improved his PFF tackling grade each season, and he made a significant jump in 2020 by earning a grade of 75.1. That would have ranked seventh on the team.
With Roberts and Jackson entering the fray, don't expect ball carriers to bounce off defenders as much this fall.
5. He provides Washington with quality depth.
If either Fuller or Jackson gets hurt, Roberts is a capable outside corner. He could also serve as the team's starting nickel back, as he spent nearly half of his time in the slot with the Lions in 2020. He even has 380 career snaps at free safety under his belt.
With Darby and Moreau departing during free agency, Washington needed a defensive back who could fill in at a variety of spots. Roberts is that player.
He'll also likely be the eldest member of the secondary, so he can provide valuable experience to his younger counterparts and make sure everything in the backend is running smoothly. That will be crucial as Washington looks to replicate its elite passing defense from a year ago.
"First of all, it takes trust," Harris said when asked what it takes to create a successful secondary. "All four or five guys in the back end all trusting that they are going to do their job. That is so cliché -- you hear that everywhere -- but it really is a trust factor. A corner has to trust that a safety is going to be where he is supposed to be. A safety has to trust that a corner is going to do his job if he is going to cover a person. It goes hand in hand. I think that is the biggest thing creating some continuity back there, so you build that trust and that continuity."