Nick Perry teaches Washington's Keith Price a lesson about game speed. (Getty Images)
With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before and after the 2012 scouting combine, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
USC's Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2011, Perry wasted no time once he first got on the field with the Trojans in 2009. He had two sacks in his first game against San Jose State, and eight in his first season. After a somewhat disappointing follow-up season with four sacks in 2010, Perry went off the hook last year. He picked up 9.5 sacks (nine solo), with five in his last four games. It was a near-certainty that he'd declare for the 2012 draft, and in an era when pass-rushers are more important than ever, he's got a very good chance to excel right away, just as he did at USC.
Because of his 4.64 combine speed at 6-foot-3 and 271 pounds, some see Perry switching from 4-3 defensive end to pure outside linebacker at the next level. However, even a cursory look at Perry's game tape proves that while speed can't be coached, there are different kinds of speed that fit different positions better, and it's my belief that Perry is best suited to the roles he played in college.
Why mess with success?
Pros: Perry's first-step quickness absolutely explodes off the tape, and it's the primary reason the buzz about him keeps getting louder. He's not just fast through and to the pocket; he's amazingly quick from his stance and you'll see him blow by blockers before they can get their hands up at times. Even when he's blocked or ridden out of the pocket, he has the change-of-direction skills to create problems for a quarterback with his second effort and re-direct. Has a tremendous outside move that can foil even the most agile pass-blocker -- if your feet aren't set against Perry and he's on your outside shoulder, you're in a lot of trouble.
As a straight-on rusher, uses his hands well to separate; will be even better at this as he develops spin, rip and swim moves. Has a good "dip-and-rip" move that allows him to turn the corner quickly. Excellent run defender who will move from seam to seam with great fluidity to make plays on ballcarriers from yards away that other ends simply can't. Good overall sense of fundamentals for the position; understands how to use the momentum of a rip move to propel him forward, and this is one of the primary reasons for the Freeney comparison. Doesn't use a lot of stunts and loops, but will certainly be asked to at the NFL level, and with his pure speed, he could be pretty scary when doing so.
Cons: While Perry gets a decent push on tackles and tight ends, a lot of that comes from his speed and explosiveness, and he doesn't display optimal upper-body strength from play to play. Stronger blockers will be able to deal with him pretty consistently as a result. Played inside in a few three-man fronts, and that lack of pure strength shows up in his inability to beat double teams. More practiced NFL tackles will be able to walk him back and to the side until he learns to peel off of power blocks.
While he does a decent job of dissecting the action when asked to play in space, he will overrun some plays; seems to be a player predetermined to go as quickly as possible in a forward direction. Has some experience in zone blitzes and dropbacks, but he's more a space player than a true coverage threat in those packages. 2011 Stanford game, as impressive as it was, revealed Perry's tendency to bite on play action; mobile quarterbacks could have a field day with him as they escape the pocket.
Conclusion: Perry was among the last recruiting scores of the Pete Carroll era along with Matt Kalil, and one wonders how much going up against Kalil in practice all the time refined Perry's pass-rush moves. From a pure "Oh my God!" speed perspective, he's probably the most impressive pass rusher in this class, and he's developed enough technique to make that quickness into something truly special. In an NFL where hybrid defenses rule the day, teams will look at Perry in different functions and possible roles, and I think he's potentially dominant in several of those roles -- everything from a straight end in a 40 front, to an occasional endbacker in a five-man front to a wide-nine end attacking from a 45-degree angle (where I believe he could really shine).
What you will get from Nick Perry is a peerless pure pass rusher with the ability to improve, and the chase speed to blow up some second-level run plays. What you will not get, at least to start, is a player who can also stone blockers at the point of attack or drop into coverage in an optimal sense. If he could do those things as well, he'd be a top-10 pick, but as it stands right now, Nick Perry should be on the top of the draft board for any team in need of quarterback terrorization right away.
Pro Comparison: Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts
More Shutdown 50:
#27: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska | #28: Dontari Poe, DT/DE, Memphis | #29: Whitney Mercilus, OLB/DE, Illinois | #30: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson| #31, Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson | #32: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford | #33: Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi | #34: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson | #35: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama | #36: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse | #37: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech | #38: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall| #39: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State | #40 : Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers| #41: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina| #42: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska| #43: Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska| #44: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina | #45: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State| #46: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia| #47: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami| #48: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State| #49: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU | #50: Jonathan Massaqoui, OLB/DE, Troy
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