A former college point guard and rookie defensive back looked like one of the best players on the field Thursday night when the Green Bay Packers took down the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 22-11, in the preseason opener for both clubs.
The NFL game doesn't look too big for Packers second-round pick Quinten Rollins.
In fact, Rollins' professional debut was so impressive it might not be a stretch to predict the rookie cornerback could contribute something important to the Green Bay defense once the real games begin.
"It was fun to actually get out there, get to go against some guys we haven't seen since we got here in May," Rollins said, via the team's official site. "Fun to go against a different opponent, get a different look. We had fun out there."
Rollins played 49 snaps against the Patriots, per Pro Football Focus. Only rookie cornerback Ladarius Gunter and safety Chris Banjo received more among Packers defenders, in part because first-round pick Damarious Randall stayed back in Green Bay to treat his injured groin.
It would have been excusable if Rollins—who played just one season of college football at Miami University (Ohio)—had dealt with some struggles during an extended NFL debut. There are expectations for most second-round picks, but Rollins isn't your typical early-round selection. He played four years of college basketball before giving football a try.
The transition from the hardwood to the gridiron isn't supposed to look this easy.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Ryan Wood noted the quality of Rollins' performance:
The Patriots targeted Rollins 10 times Thursday night, completing five passes for just 26 yards. He disrupted a number of attempts and nearly hauled in a couple of interceptions against quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
"I thought they did some really good things," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said of his young corners, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. "We're getting our hands on a lot of balls."
Gunter made the game's lone interception on the first drive of the second half. Rollins probably should have had at least one takeaway, but that's a nitpick of an otherwise strong performance.
A breakdown of Rollins' 10 targets helps paint the picture:
1. On a back-shoulder throw to Josh Boyce, Rollins stuck his hands in the mix to contest the catch and break up the attempt. It was a good recovery on a difficult play for a cornerback.
2. Rollins mirrored a go route perfectly on third down. He flipped his hips and turned his head to find the ball. He nearly intercepted the pass as he high-pointed the throw above Boyce.
3. While playing zone coverage on the outside, Rollins recognized a throw to the flat, drove on the play and made a big, yet legal, hit on Patriots running back James White. The knock dislodged the catch for an incompletion.
4. Rollins again solidly mirrored a go route from Boyce. The play never had a chance, as the rookie tracked the football the whole way and nearly intercepted the pass in the end zone.
5. Rollins allowed his first completion on a short slant to undrafted free-agent receiver Chris Harper. The catch went for seven yards.
6. On a 3rd-and-8, Rollins read the underneath hitch route, drove on the receiver and made the stop three yards short of the first down. He nearly batted the ball away as he closed on the attempt.
On the very next play, Rollins smothered Garoppolo's first read on an underneath crosser. The Packers made the sack and turned the Patriots over on downs. Had Garoppolo attempted the pass, Rollins likely would have danced into the end zone for a pick-six.
7. Brandon Gibson beat Rollins' press attempt to make a six-yard catch. The initial contact displaced the coverage and allowed underneath separation.
8. Rollins' worst effort of the night came a play later, when Gibson gained enough separation out of the slot to beat the young corner inside. Rollins then missed the tackle as Gibson picked up seven yards and a first down.
9. Garoppolo scrambled to his right against pressure, but Rollins stuck with Boyce to the outside and gave the quarterback no room to make a completion. A diving attempt to get a hand on the throw came up short, but the incomplete pass still forced a punt.
10. Rollins immediately diagnosed a bubble screen to Harper. The corner blew past the block attempt and nearly tripped up the receiver for a loss. Linebacker Joe Thomas made the tackle after a one-yard gain.
The Packers probably couldn't have asked for a better debut from their second-round cornerback. There are still some technique issues for Rollins to work on—mostly in pressing at the line of scrimmage. But his movement and ability to diagnose and play the football in the air were outstanding for a young player in his first pro game.
Of course, the performance as a whole must be taken in context.
Thursday night was still a preseason tilt filled with vanilla game plans and mixed-and-matched personnel. Rollins covered Boyce, who has nine career NFL catches, and Harper, an undrafted free agent, for most of the contest. He'll face schemes that are more complex and receivers who are more talented once the regular season kicks off.
Still, Rollins looks like a player who can help the Packers secondary in 2015. The depth at cornerback for Green Bay should allow an eased transition, but there's no reason why Rollins can't be a factor.
Thursday night was just the start for a young man still learning to play a difficult position. Don't be surprised when No. 24 is making similar flash plays for the Packers, as Rollins' still-improving skill set was obvious in his pro debut.
Zach Kruse covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.