It seems like so long ago that Buffalo Bills fans were terrified by the prospect of Ronald Darby being forced into a starting job after Leodis McKelvin's ankle injury landed him on the NFI list. Three weeks into the regular season, Darby's strong play as a starting cornerback has earned him the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month award for September.
Darby currently leads all defenders, rookies and veterans alike, with eight defended passes. He's also one of 13 defenders (along with teammate Preston Brown) with a league-high two interceptions. Finally, even more impressively, Darby has held opposing quarterbacks to a 31.8 quarterback rating when they throw at him, which is also tops in the league for all defenders.
Throughout the preseason, Darby struggled mightily with the prospect of working alone, as is often required from cornerbacks in a Rex Ryan defense. The game against Pittsburgh, in particular, saw him repeatedly burned by Martavis Bryant when he wasn't committing penalties. Since the games started counting, however, Darby has pulled a complete 180. His ball skills have greatly improved, and he's developed the necessary penchant for turning his head to look for the ball. That has led to both the high number of broken-up throws, as well as the decrease in penalties over the last three weeks. What makes all of this so astounding is that Darby has seen one of the higher rates of targets against in the NFL this season, yet he's still performing so strongly and rarely giving up huge plays.
The combination of the poor preseason, and playing alongside a strong cornerback in Stephon Gilmore, has led to opposing quarterbacks targeting Darby, yet through three weeks of the season he's held up strongly enough that the league has seen fit to recognize him as the best first-year defender out there (so far). There's no reason to think he won't keep up that pace into the remaining 13 games.