Once he had learned his cornerback duties in the Jets’ system, Darryl Roberts began taking notes on other positions.
For someone who was once the 247th overall pick in the NFL draft, any kind of edge Roberts could gain was well worth his time. Anything to get on the field.
“You never know when you’re going to get your opportunity, but the only thing you can do is prepare for it and make sure you’re ready when it presents itself,” Roberts said.
The extra studying paid off last week for the Jets. With free safety Marcus Maye out with an injury, Roberts slid over from his spot at cornerback and filled in suitably against the Patriots.
Maye is out again Sunday against the Titans and is facing the possibility of surgery, meaning Roberts may have found his new home in the secondary for the rest of the season.
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“Playing safety and playing corner, it’s kind of opposite,” said Roberts, who last played safety in college at Marshall. “You kind of got to think different and just be wired different as far as what you have to do in the box or if you have to be in the post. I’m not really going to say be smarter, you just have to anticipate things before they happen more.”
It’s not the first time this season that Roberts has taken advantage of an opportunity. Earlier in the year, he started five games at cornerback when Trumaine Johnson went down with an injury. His preparation allowed him to step in without a falloff in production.
“He does whatever it takes,” defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson said. “He listens to coaching, he does it to a T. He reads his keys, he studies. If you ask him to do something, he’s going to do it to the best of his ability. If I have a player like that, that’s going to do whatever it takes to the best his ability, I’m going to go with the wins and the losses when he plays. But I’m proud of him.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Roberts has been the Jets’ third-highest rated defensive player this season, behind only Jamal Adams and Maye.
The Jets have missed on plenty of their own draft picks in recent years, which has only contributed to the recent struggles they have endured. But Roberts represents one of their development stories, even if he wasn’t theirs to begin with.
Roberts was the Patriots’ seventh-round draft choice in 2015 — nine picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant — but was put on injured reserve after injuring his wrist in the preseason finale. The next year, he did not make New England’s roster out of camp and was cut before the Jets claimed him off waivers.
Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said Roberts made an impression ever since his NFL debut in 2016 when he made a spot start against the Steelers and covered well.
“Since he’s been here, he’s just getting better and better,” Rodgers said. “I can’t say enough about what he did in the game the other night. He really played well.”
Head coach Todd Bowles said Roberts was “decent” in his first game at safety, but that he has adjusted well.
“He’s a very intelligent football player,” Bowles said.
Roberts is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Jets may be bringing in a new coaching staff, so no matter what, he’s trying to put as many good snaps on tape as he can to impress whoever’s watching.
“Every time I hit the field, I want to be the best me I can be for the team,” Roberts said. “If I’m not here, then help another team. You got to represent yourself.”