NFL

Denzel Perryman: The Next Great Inside Linebacker Prospect?

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A common sentiment among NFL players is that football is turning soft with all the rules governing how, where and when they can hit their opponents; however, you would never know if you turned on a University of Miami football game in recent years.

Inside linebacker Denzel Perryman laid enough soul-crushing hits that would even make the Steel Curtain’s Jack Lambert smile. Perryman plays with a violence that is nearly extinct in today’s football. While most players focus on diving at ball carrier’s legs or simply wrapping up, Perryman drives through contact and hopes to inflict pain on his opponents on every play.

“My dad used to tell me all the time ‘go all out or nothing,’” Perryman said. “He used to tell me ‘clean somebody clock before they clean yours.’”

Perryman has taken that sage advice to heart as he has cleaned many clocks in his time at the University of Miami. In his four years in college, he recorded 351 tackles with 27 of them coming for loss. When a player has a high volume of tackles like that, it is easy to discern that he is good against the run, which is exactly what Perryman believes is his biggest strength.

When asked what he believed was his biggest strengths were Perryman said,”I feel like my tackling ability. My recognition of the run fits. I feel like my run game and tackling.”

Nevertheless, Perryman has drawn a lot of criticism for his coverage ability. In fact, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein stated that Perryman “lacks coverage traits and is a liability in man coverage.”

As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, it has become paramount that linebackers are adept in coverage because if they aren’t teams will pick on that player throughout the game, which will limit how much that player can be on the field regardless of how well he defends the run.

Now, Perryman isn’t a complete liability in coverage as he actually does quite well when he is assigned to short-zone coverage. However, he really struggles when he has to flip his hips and turn and run down the seam versus tight ends or versus wheel routes from running backs.

This means that whichever teams selects Perryman will have to do so with a plan in place as to how they are going to mitigate that weakness. If they ask Perryman to play any Tampa-2 style of defense, they will likely have a glaring hole down the middle of their defense; however, if they play more Cover-3 and allow Perryman to play the hook, curl or flats, they will be much more effective.

At 5-foot-11 and 236 pounds, Perryman’s best fit would be on the inside in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense as his short and stocky frame would hold up well at the point-of-attack in the trenches. However, it is conceivable that Perryman could even be a fit as an outside linebacker in a 4-3.

“Yeah I mean I can play inside and outside. I feel like I have the athleticism to be able to be flexible,” Perryman said.

The athleticism that makes Perryman to be flexible is the same athleticism that allowed him to shoot games and blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage. When Perryman gets off his spot quickly and comes downhill, he is one of the best linebackers in this draft. Nevertheless, there were too many times where Perryman was too slow to get off his spot, which put him at a severe disadvantage for the rest of the play.

It is evident that a lot of Perryman’s success in the NFL will be dependent on how he is used. When used right, Perryman could be a perennial Pro Bowler who is among the top linebackers in the NFL, but if he is used incorrectly, he could be nothing more than a special teamer who rarely gets playing time on defense.

When asked what he could bring to an NFL team, Perryman gave a simple answer that spoke volumes about who he is.

“Just a hard-nosed hardworking player,” Perryman said. “You know, you turn on my film, you know I speak for myself when I say you’d get a hardworking man and a real dedicated player.”

Hard work, dedication and violence. Those three words epitomize Perryman, a throwback player stuck in modern day football.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com