For the second time in five years, the Ravens are swinging early on a gifted deep threat to serve as the pivot point in their WR rebuild. In 2011, the team spent the 58th overall pick on Torrey Smith, who provided Joe Flacco with a great downfield target for four years. With Smith gone via free agency this offseason, the Ravens spent the 26th pick on Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, one of the NCAA’s premier big-play producers in 2014. And like Smith, there’s a good chance Perriman will be thrown into the fire as a major cog in the passing game as a rookie.
To evaluate Perriman’s redraft appeal, we need to answer four crucial questions:
- How strong a prospect is he?
- Can he adjust his game to the NFL, not merely finding the field but producing on it?
- Is there ample opportunity in the Baltimore passing game to accommodate major usage for him?
- How severe is his preseason knee sprain?
As a prospect
It may not be fair, but it sure seems practical to compare Perriman to Torrey Smith. The two were strikingly similar NFL prospects, both brought on board to serve as primary outside receiver and downfield threat for Joe Flacco’s cannon arm. (And both will have had to hit the ground running, proving their wares alongside a dependable, veteran target capable of dominating targets if the youngster stumbles.)
So, to create an expectation for Perriman’s fit in Baltimore, it makes some sense to examine Perriman’s athletic profile and production resume as they relate to those of Smith.
|Torrey Smith (2011)||Breshad Perriman (2015)|
|6’1" / 204 lbs.||Height / Weight*||6’2" / 212 lbs.|
|41” / 126”||Vertical / Broad jump*||36.5” / 127”|
|100||Adjusted Explosivity Index**||105.52|
|37.80%||Final season Rec Ydshare||34.10%|
* From Perriman’s March 25th Central Florida pro day
In Perriman, we apparently have the bigger, faster, and generally more athletic model (though I’m always skeptical of pro day times) who claimed slightly less dominance over his college passing game. But where Perriman soars ahead is in career yards per reception. He managed to top 20.0 YPR in both his sophomore and junior years, while Smith never reached 16.0 in any season. I’m willing to call Perriman the slightly superior athlete – and fully capable of exceeding Smith’s deep ball production in Baltimore.
Throughout draft season, Perriman drew just as much buzz for his dazzling athleticism as he did for his questionable hands. But I really don’t think it matters that much.
Perriman’s junior-year drop rate on catchable targets (14.8%) was indeed alarming, but actually lower than Torrey Smith’s from a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, over the last three years, NFL wide receivers with 12%+ drop rates in a season have included the likes of Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Randall Cobb. But truthfully, that doesn’t mean all that much either. It’s a myth that the good wideouts don’t drop passes; they all drop some. Regardless, drop numbers are fickle and subjectively assigned. The way I see it, a cripplingly drop-prone receiver, one who simply cannot catch the ball with any consistency at all, likely wouldn’t make his way through the high school and collegiate ranks. It’s even a little less likely he’d garner a 1st round grade from an NFL scouting department. It has happened, of course, and will happen again, but it’s a generally unlikely exception when it does.
Besides, Perriman’s drop issues may be a bit overblown anyway, when one considers his college quarterback. His drop-filled 2014 was spent catching balls from talented-yet-erratic sophomore QB Justin Holman who completed less than 57% of his throws.
Breshad Perriman's QB play from '14 is the worst I've seen since watching Keenan Allen & Marvin Jones have to deal with Zach Maynard.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 27, 2015
That certainly wouldn’t just explain away a receiver’s culpability, of course, and Perriman will need to prove to the Ravens that 2014 was a freak occurrence. But it does suggest we can boost our expectations of Perriman’s dependability as he transitions from an inconsistent sophomore quarterback to Joe Flacco. And overall, we can feel comfortable when we note that Torrey Smith has been a solid fantasy WR2/3 in Baltimore with stunningly low catch rates of his own.
Even beyond the drops, Perriman’s college tape is a bit of a mixed bag – explosive and tantalizing, but a bit inconsistent. More than a mere deep threat, Perriman ran a full route tree at Central Florida, but the lack of polish in his routes was obvious. Still, it seems while watching his film that, for every mental slip or broken route, you’re treated to a solid handful of difficult, contested catches and dazzling open-field runs.
The Ravens are an enticing landing spot for rookie receivers this year thanks to Torrey Smith's signing with the 49ers. Smith's departure rolled out the red carpet for a talented addition like Perriman to step in and assume a sizable workload. Steve Smith Jr., at age 36, is unlikely to repeat his 2014 usage (and in fact fell off meaningfully in the second half of last season), and the remaining WR stable lacks experience and difference-making talent.
Perriman is one of few receiver prospects drafted into a relatively high statistical floor. To find his way into every-snap territory, he needs only to beat out a group of limited backup types. Marlon Brown saw just 38 targets in 2014, and only one in the red zone; he has seemingly vanished from the team’s plans. Kamar Aiken is a career special teamer who had seen just 16 WR snaps in four years prior to last season. And Michael Campanaro, who flashed in very limited time as a rookie, is an undersized slot prospect. All three are situational targets, and none offer a profile likely to threaten Perriman’s. All told, it appears that the only real factor clouding Perriman’s statistical expectations is Perriman – his performance, and not a crowded depth chart.
What clouds Perriman's redraft outlook is his knee injury, which has robbed him of nearly his entire rookie offseason.
Most likely, Perriman will be worked into the lineup sooner rather than later - but at not overwhelmingly so. A rookie who missed the entire preseason typically has to earn his playing time, so it would be unwise to project 80% or more of the Ravens snaps. So how much opportunity can we expect him to siphon from Steve Smith? In all likelihood, the team will look to trim Smith’s volume (134 targets, 14th in the league) and utilize him as more of a slot option as opposed to an offensive focal point. If you project Smith’s target share to dip from 24% to a more age- and role-appropriate 21%, that frees up an additional 15-20 looks to Perriman and very few other legitimate options.
All told, Perriman looks poised for 5+ targets per game once he begins practicing. Torrey Smith finished 2014 as WR30 in arguably his worst season, so it’s not unreasonable to think Perriman will offer top-30 upside as a rookie.
- Perriman brings to the table a near-elite athletic skill set, with an adjusted explosivity index (105.52) in the neighborhood of last year’s metric darling, Donte Moncrief.
- With his size and dynamic foot speed, Perriman looks like an ideal fit for Joe Flacco’s downfield-oriented offense. Historically, few full-time QBs have sent the ball deep more often, and his deep threats have benefited nicely. And Perriman boasts the open-field ability to create massive YAC (yards after catch) totals.
- Perriman seems all but certain to step into solid usage, with Torrey Smith gone, Steve Smith wearing down at age 36, and few other enticing options on the depth chart. The addition of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, renowned for his work with less talented passing games, even further brightens Perriman’s statistical upside.
- In college, Perriman was explosive and productive but not particularly consistent. He’ll need to polish his struggles with drops and route-running to stay on the field in Baltimore.
- Opportunity (and targets) aren’t everything. If Perriman indeed inherits Torrey Smith’s old role, he’ll be looking at a steady diet of clear-out deep balls and other low-percentage routes and throws. For the most part, Perriman will likely be an inefficient rookie dependent upon good-not-great volume and his own ability to chase down deep balls. That’s a difficult role to invest in too heavily, especially for a rookie.
- Perriman’s 2014-15 has featured a handful of injuries – a scary concussion that got him carted off the field in November, a hamstring strain during the combine, and the knee sprain that has cost him the preseason. The latter is the one to watch, as all of his missed time thus far has likely already bumped him from a sure spot in the lineup.
There’s a lot to like about Perriman. With his dazzling measureables and big-play potency, you can definitely see glimpses of the Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas comparisons he’s drawn as a prospect. If nothing else, he certainly seems athletically capable of filling Torrey Smith’s shoes as an explosive downfield threat. But his upside is boosted by his versatility; Perriman is more than a 40 time in cleats. His experience as an all-around receiver bodes nicely for his future.
And the fit is attractive as well. With Torrey Smith out of town and Steve Smith near the end of the line, Perriman enters 2015 as the Ravens’ most talented option on the outside, and with little competition for the workload that goes with it. His target projections aren’t particularly robust - especially considering his injury-riddled slow start - but they’re workable for a fantasy WR4. And his monstrous big-play ability on any given snap pushes his upside into yearlong WR3 territory.
Still, his game needs tightening. He’ll need to catch the ball better and sharpen his downfield routes to ensure real opportunity on this level. Perriman needs to perform consistently on all levels of the field to maximize his ample ability. After all, there’s little consistency or predictability for a rookie deep ball specialist.
Graham Barfield of numberFire, on Perriman’s rookie prospects:
Rotoworld's Evan Silva on Perriman as a prospect:
For a dissenting opinion, check out the Rookie Scouting Portfolio take from Footballguys’ own Matt Waldman, who considers Perriman “a great example of unrefined speed.”