KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan knows cornerbacks.
Ryan has coached the likes of Chris McAlister, Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and even Terence Newman during a short stint as a defensive coordinator at Kansas State, among others.
So given his history, Ryan isn’t likely to offer praise lightly and he knows when a cornerback possesses unique traits.
“It doesn’t take long,” Ryan said in a conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “You’ve got to get through some of the games and stuff like that, but it’s almost how they respond.
“I put my guy out there on the island, forcing him to cover like all the best guys in training camp and that stuff because he’s got to get beat. All these corners get beat, but it’s how you come back and respond, and I could see the competitiveness in Ronald Darby right away and the type of his makeup.”
Darby, Buffalo’s second-round pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, won’t be alone as a special cornerback when the Chiefs (5-5) host the Bills (5-5) in Week 12 at Arrowhead Stadium.
While Sunday’s game has postseason implications, the contest also showcases two of the NFL’s top rookie cornerbacks in Darby and Marcus Peters, whom the Chiefs selected with a first-round pick in May.
“The kid you’ve got there from Washington, I loved him when he was coming out,” Ryan said. “These are the two best corners in the draft, in my opinion, even though we got Darby in the second round. You’ll see. He can flat play. I think it’s pretty obvious that these two guys have got a great future in this league.”
Ryan makes a strong argument, especially when considering the impact Darby and Peters have on their respective teams.
The 5-11, 193-pound Darby enters Week 12 leading the NFL with 18 passes defensed. He ranks fourth on the Bills in tackles with 50 (45 solo) and is tied at second with two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Peters has 14 passes defensed, which ranks fourth in the league. The 6-0, 197-pound Peters ranks fourth on the Chiefs in tackles with 42 (38 solo) and leads the team with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
“He’s fun to watch,” Chiefs defensive end Mike DeVito said of Peters after Week 10’s win against the Denver Broncos. “The kid’s a rookie. He reminds me of (Darrelle) Revis when Revis came in, so grateful to have him.”
A large compliment from DeVito, a former teammate of Revis while with the New York Jets, when considering Revis, a four-time first-team All Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection, is widely regarded as one the NFL’s top cornerbacks.
Ryan admits to seeing some of Revis in Peters, whom the Bills brought in for a visit before the NFL’s annual selection process.
“I think he’s got the mentality of it, I think that’s part of it,” Ryan said. “He’s got the confidence, the mentality, the swagger, and he doesn’t mind matching himself up against the very best. I saw that in him, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
While Ryan complimented Peters, he is also quick to point out Darby has the same attributes.
“Like I said, he’s (Peters) not alone,” Ryan said. “The kid you’re going to see across from him is the exact same way.”
For his part, Peters was flattered when told of Ryan’s praise.
“It just shows how much potential that he sees in me,” Peter said with a smile. “He told me when I was on my visit I had a lot of potential, but other than that it’s good to hear. We’re all our own individual players. I got to go and make it be known I can be on that status.”
Darby and Peters have turned heads throughout the NFL season as both players develop with strong coaching and in respective defensive schemes.
But the two rookies also take advantage of mentorship from veteran teammates.
Darby plays alongside fourth-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who is tied for second in the NFL in passes defensed with 17. And Darby enjoys receiving mentorship from his teammate.
“Once I got in, he taught me a lot,” Darby said. “It helped me become the player I am right now and it stayed from the beginning with me. I got a lot more to learn and get better at, but it’s just great that I was blessed enough to have him here.”
Peters plays alongside seventh-year cornerback Sean Smith and in a defensive backfield that includes safety Eric Berry, a former All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection.
“When you got a secondary like this, it makes it a whole lot easier,” Peters said. “All you got to do is go make your plays when they come. It’s fun, man, because we all in the secondary are making plays.”
Peters and Darby won’t have an opportunity to matchup against each other, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate what their counterpart offers on defense.
“He’s a great player,” Darby said of Peters. “I respect his game, I like how he plays. He goes out there and competes.”
The level of respect between the two young cornerbacks is mutual.
“That’s good to get some compliments from a fellow rookie,” Peters said. “I like his game, too.”
Peters and Darby are often mentioned in the discussion as prime candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but Peters said he doesn’t pay attention to the growing hype.
The Chiefs rookie, who prefers not to be compared to other players, has higher goals and wants to continue making plays for a team peaking at the right time for a postseason push.
“I want to be one of the best in the league, period, not just rookie,” Peters said. “But I’m not worried about that. I’m trying to win as many games possible for this team so we can reach our ultimate goal.”