No bug under this Derby, who’s intent on pestering Pats
The A.J. Derby conspiracy theory posits that, in a diabolical plot put in motion by Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots traded the tight end to the Broncos to plant a spy in the Denver locker room. Derby is bugged, the Twitter theory assumes, and he is secretly slipping game plans to his former coach.
“I’m not wearing a wire,” Derby said Friday, lifting his shirt to show no recording devices. “Everyone has a conspiracy when it comes to Bill. They always think he’s cheating at something.”
In the past five years, since John Elway was hired as Denver’s general manager, the Broncos have the second-best record in the NFL, 66-26. They trail only the Patriots at 72-21. Both teams earned playoff berths each of those seasons. They have been remarkably consistent and successful.
So something must separate them, however minor. And that leads to a guess from fans as outlandishly stupid as the A.J. Derby conspiracy theory.
“I’m competitive,” said Derby, who was traded to Denver in October for a fifth-round draft pick. “Obviously, I’m excited to play against them and try to do my best.”
In five games, Derby has been a nearly sure-handed receiver for the Broncos, catching 12 of 14 passes thrown his direction, for an 85.7 percent reception rate, the second-best on the team. But his drop late in a loss at Tennessee on Sunday, when quarterback Trevor Siemian found him for a would-be first down, cost the Broncos in a comeback attempt.
Derby’s benefit to the Broncos should be on third down. They rank 25th in the NFL with a 36.2 percent conversion rate. And on third-and-1, Denver is 31st in the NFL, moving the chains just 51.6 percent of the time. That is largely a function of the Broncos’ struggling run game, which gained just 18 yards against the Titans.
“In the third-down situations, that’s helped us a little bit,” Broncos quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp said of Derby. “To me, it’s always about the ebb and flow of a
season. Sometimes there’s a need more for the tight ends.”
Derby’s trade bridges the ongoing rivalry between the Broncos and Patriots. Belichick sacrificed him to build for the future with an extra draft pick. But at the time, the Pats had the best tight end duo in the NFL, with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. But Gronkowski is out for the season after back surgery earlier this month.
Asked about Derby this week, Belichick was curt but complimentary — doing nothing to dispel the conspiracy theory.
“A smart kid, really smart, good hands,” the coach said. “Works hard. No issues.”
In Belichick’s 17 seasons as coach of the Patriots, he is 2-8 against the Broncos in Denver, including two losses last season by a combined eight points. The difference between the teams is often minor. Derby could be that difference — as much a subtraction from the Patriots as an addition for the Broncos. No doubleagent shenanigans are necessary.
“We need to continue to use him,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’s done a lot of good things. We need him making plays for us. I think he’s shown the ability to do that.”
A.J. Derby has been a nearly sure-handed receiver for the Broncos, catching 12 of 14 passes thrown his direction. Joe Amon, The Denver Post