NFL scouts often say that prospects from smaller college programs need to dominate the competition at their level to help convince clubs they can handle the jump to the pros. Bills seventh-round pick Justin Rogers certainly put together a quality body of work to accomplish that, but in addition to solid production the Richmond cornerback possesses an additional asset.
Yes, Rogers’ statistics in his four years with the Spiders are impressive. He had 12 career interceptions, led the CAA conference in punt return average (12.4) as a senior and set the CAA record for kick return yards in a career, most notably passing Brian Westbrook on the all-time list.
He was also one of just a handful of players in CAA history to earn All-American honors in each of his four collegiate seasons.
“He’s very athletic, good ball skills,” said Bills National Scout Darrell Moody. “He can flip his hips and has good speed. I’ll be shocked if he isn’t a productive player.”
“He’s got good speed, good quickness,” said Bills GM Buddy Nix. “The guy is a good cover guy. He has excellent ball skills.”
Obviously Rogers’ physical abilities have gone a long way in convincing Buffalo’s personnel department that he can handle the level of talent in the NFL, but what makes the Richmond corner all the more prepared for the bright lights and big time atmosphere of the pros is his experience in big time games.
A major contributor since he was a redshirt freshman, Rogers played on a Richmond squad that went to the FCS playoffs three of his four years with the Spiders.
As a freshman he served in a return role ranking third in the nation in kick return average (30.4). He was a return man that opponents prepared a game plan for, but contributed in an FCS playoff win over Wofford. He piled up 217 kick return yards in the national semifinals, but Richmond lost to the eventual national champion Appalachian State in 2007.
Richmond returned to the playoffs the following year with Rogers still handling return duties in addition to a starting role at cornerback. The Spiders exacted revenge upsetting the defending national champs in a rematch routing Appalachian State 33-13 with Rogers posting an interception along with six tackles.
That was followed by a nail-biting win over Northern Iowa in the national semifinals (21-20) before Richmond took out Montana for the FCS national title (24-7) with Rogers and his defensive teammates locking down one of the more high-powered offenses in the country at the FCS level that season.
As a junior Rogers again returned to the FCS playoffs, but Appalachian State had their number in 2009 bumping them off in the national quarterfinals.
Playing in six playoff games in three years, Rogers feels those pressure situations can only help him at the NFL level.
“I think they definitely will,” he said. “Being at Richmond I got to play against a lot of good teams and a lot of competition, so hopefully it will translate into the NFL.”
In addition to getting bigger and stronger on defense, Nix and his college scouting department also had an eye on adding team leaders and winners. Rogers was described by his college coaches as a player that led by example with solid character.
“People don’t realize that the atmosphere in the locker room is so important,” said Nix a former college head coach. “I don’t care how good your coaches are or how well you drafted. If you don’t have team leaders you’re not going to be successful. I had a chance to work with two national championship teams all of them had the same thing. We’re trying to get to that point. We’ve got good leaders. We need to add to it.”
Rogers might not have the big time college program on his resume, but 52 games of experience and a national title under his belt figure to take him a long way.