When you see someone every day for an extended period of time, you get comfortable with that person, and you know what to expect. You know their strengths, and you discover their weaknesses. It’s a comforting feeling to know that the individual you’ve grown with pushes you to be great and also shows you tough love when you’re not at your best.
That’s the relationship former Virginia Tech teammates Eddie Royal and Brandon Flowers had during their three years together in Blacksburg, and the experiences that they shared during practice will be tested on Sunday when the Denver Broncos travel to Kansas City for a big AFC West showdown.
Both players were selected in the second round this past April, just seven selections apart; Flowers was taken 35th overall and Royal was the 42nd selection. They have made an immediate impact on their respective franchises as starters, but at this point, Royal has gotten more recognition for his efforts.
Three weeks into his professional career, Royal has displayed a knack for being in the right place at the right time and has become an attraction on offense and special teams.
He’s an explosive return specialist who's still developing into a consistent receiver. He runs good routes, is quick in and out of his breaks, gets separation from defenders and displays the awareness of a seasoned veteran. He has excellent vertical speed and adjusts well to deep throws. He's always looking to make a big play and shows great acceleration after the catch.
Royal had an outstanding debut against the Oakland Raiders in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, and was a major reason for the Broncos 41 – 14 blowout over their divisional foe. He finished the game with nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
During the Broncos Week 2 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, Royal didn’t finish with the statistical success he enjoyed the previous week. But, he found himself in the spotlight once again, as he caught the game-winning touchdown with just 24 seconds remaining that gave Denver a narrow 39 – 38 victory.
The opposition is beginning to pay attention to Royal, and in the last two games, his opportunities have been limited. Last week against New Orleans, the Saints did a nice job defending him and surrendered just four receptions for 11 yards. Although the Saints contained Royal, they allowed Brandon Marshall to break loose for over 150 yards receiving to ultimately give the Broncos a 34 – 32 win.
Defending Royal and Marshall isn’t an easy task, especially with Jay Cutler, who’s in the midst of having a breakout season completing 67.6-percent of his passes for 914 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in the early going. With the Chiefs in a position of having to start two rookies - Flowers and fifth round pick Brandon Carr - at the cornerback position because of a recent injury to Patrick Surtain, the task becomes much harder.
The familiarity that Flowers has with Royal will benefit the Chiefs and although he may lineup against Marshall in certain situations, the best matchup for him is to defend Royal.
Flowers is a naturally gifted, physical defender who possesses excellent ball skills. He has great footwork and back pedals fluidly. He doesn't lose momentum transitioning in coverage and anticipates the action. He breaks well on the ball and instantly gets into an offensive position defending the pass. He's an instinctive defender who has a great burst of speed, diagnoses a play and defends the run well.
He doesn’t possess elite speed, but his physical nature allows him to challenge most receivers on the outside. Kansas City’s Cover 2 scheme helps Flowers, because he’s able to drop quicker and react faster; something he did exceptionally well at Virginia Tech.
As a team, the Chiefs have been outstanding in pass defense and are currently ranked fourth in the league, allowing 153 YPG through the air. But the one statistic that stands out is the fact that they haven’t created an interception. With all of his ability as a playmaker, Flowers has yet to show his skills as a ballhawk, but he’s displayed his toughness with 12 tackles (11 solo).
The intrigue of this matchup is obvious; two former college teammates set to go Head 2 Head as they’re entrenched into their respective lineups as key figures to their team’s success.
So much for being a rookie.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.