It’s Friday, so if you’ve paid any attention to the Packers in the past 24 hours you know that Green Bay has reserved the rights to five more years of former first-round pick, Nick Perry.
The former USC standout defensive end, a first-round pick in 2012, has spent most of his career associated with “bust”. Perry’s first four seasons were mired by injury, as he missed significant time in his rookie year, suited up for only 11 games in year two, and, despite appearing in action for the majority of 2014 and ’15, he missed almost the entirety of the offseason with shoulder injuries.
When you’re a first-round selection, plugged into a position as important as outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, expectations for your success are understandably high. There just wasn’t enough there to see what Perry was made of.
It had been asserted that Perry’s struggles derived from a position change from 4-3 defensive end to stand-up linebacker in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. Under the best circumstances, like Perry avoiding the injury bug and getting significant playing time, he’d still need to adjust to a new position.
But there were always reasons to believe in Perry. He was a productive pass rusher at USC. His combine numbers were obvious cause for elation: a 4.58 40-yard-dash, a 38-inch vertical, and 35 reps on the bench press. Look at the same pool of players selected in 2012, and you’ll note Perry running a faster 40 and posting a higher vertical than wide receivers, while making the big guys in the trenches look weak by comparison. And all of this came wrapped up in a 270-pound frame.
The scouting report on Perry in college was that he relied on raw athleticism over technique. His limited time early on in Green Bay displayed a nasty bull rush. Perry is a player for whom the combination of speed and power has always been obvious and dangerous once properly mobilized. But the impact plays were few and far between, despite flashes, like a monster hit against Andrew Luck early on in his career that was erroneously flagged for a personal foul largely because of the play’s impressive violence.
Every flash Perry showed in his first four years was offset by injury woes. Availability and accountability.
The Packers weren’t ready to give up on their former first-rounder, though, and signed Perry to a one-year “prove it” contract entering 2016.
Perry, finally the beneficiary of a clean bill of health, was a full participant in the offseason programs. This gave assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss considerably more time to work with Perry. The Packers were pleased to have their elephant in the room.
Since the 2014 season, Capers, in an attempt by the entire staff to better use players to their strengths, began employing the “elephant” position in the team’s sub-packages (in which they play the majority of snaps). This shift would give tweeners like Perry and Peppers a position that played more to their strengths. Traditionally an outside linebacker lines up on the inside shoulder of the tackle. The elephant position moves further out, lining up on the inside shoulder of the tight end.
Perry always had a bull rush, as well as the size and strength to set the edge. Last season he showed what he was capable of.
There’s the team-leading 11 sacks — despite missing two games with a broken hand — and the fact that Perry remained productive while wearing the club. Moreover, Perry was one the league’s very best in setting the edge against the run. He destroyed tight ends and made life difficult for tackles, ripping and powering through blocks. He was arguably the Packers’ best defensive player.
There aren’t many keys to Perry’s continued success. He just has to stay healthy. Whether that happens is a big if, but don’t doubt for a second that the Packers needed to bring him back. Perry’s services were highly-sought, for good reason, because his value isn’t just as a pass-rusher. He’s an all-around disrupter.
It’s incredibly rare for a player to break out in his fifth season, but Perry’s previous struggles make sense. He’s now settled into a position that plays to his strengths. And he’s entering what should be his prime.
He just has to stay on the field. Bringing him back is a risk, but one no doubt worth taking.
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