McKinney, Perryman Stand at Opposite Ends of the Linebacker Spectrum

Benardrick McKinney at 6' 4" and Denzel Perryman at 5' 11" are two inside linebackers the Packers will be considering in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Benardrick McKinney by Spruce Derden. Denzel Perryman by Robert Mayer, USA TODAY Sports.

Benardrick McKinney by Spruce Derden. Denzel Perryman by Robert Mayer, USA TODAY Sports.

INDIANAPOLIS—NFL teams are notorious for not being fully forthcoming with the media, being obtuse, obfuscating the obvious. Team representatives are known to put a positive spin on negative performances or engage in coach-speak, peppered with clichés.

Even Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, however, acknowledged at the NFL Combine that the Packers need help at inside linebacker, not unlike safety last season.

"I think the inside linebacker position could probably be compared to where we were last year at the safety position," said McCarthy. "Obviously we had a number of moving parts there. So we’ll see what this process that we go through as far as player acquisition, how that affects it."

Inside linebacker was one of the team's most glaring weak spots in 2014, a point punctuated on Friday when the Packers released Brad Jones, a preferred starter in 2012 and 2013 that saw his playing time drop off this past season. Cutting back the role of A.J. Hawk and moving Clay Matthews to inside linebacker were also telltale signs Green Bay needs a playmaker. Badly.

The easiest and most cost-efficient fix is by acquiring help through the NFL Draft, a method the Packers are sure to employ. It's just a matter of who and when.

If general manager Ted Thompson addresses the position in the first round, two players he'll be considering are Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney and Miami's Denzel Perryman, perhaps not coincidentally the two players finishing No. 1 and No. 2 in Cheesehead TV's survey of internet mock drafts as most likely to land in Green Bay.

Both players are talented, a check of their highlight reels and post-season accolades is testament to that.

What separates McKinney and Perryman, however, is about a half a foot. At opposite ends of the height spectrum, McKinney is about as tall as they come at the inside linebacker position, and conversely, there aren't many shorter than Perryman.

Listed as 6' 5" on his official NFL.com draft profile, word from the Combine is that McKinney measured in at 6' 4", still taller than most of his peers.

"It helped me quite a bit, just looking over the line of scrimmage, being long with a long wing span, getting off of tall, big offensive linemen, using my hands, it helped me get a big advantage," said McKinney.

Modern-day football is becoming more and more pass oriented, not less, so it's important for linebackers to be able to defend multi-threat tight ends, slot receivers and running backs in the passing game. According to McKinney, he has an upper hand.

"I have an advantage of my height and making the quarterback make difficult throws over the top of me, so I definitely have an advantage," said McKinney.

The question, however, is whether a linebacker can be too tall. With longer limbs and longer strides, can McKinney get up to speed as quickly in short spaces? It's the zero to 60 test of sports cars.

McKinney's moment of truth will come Sunday when linebackers take to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. Not only will his 40-yard dash be of particular importance, but so will be the 10- and 20-yard splits.

More than anything, the Packers need an inside linebacker that can play all three downs, not just a run stuffer that plays on early downs or a coverage specialist able to stick with receivers on third-and-long.

Even McKinney admits his relative weakness is being that full-time linebacker, keeping up with quicker and faster receivers.

"Just covering and staying on the field on third down," said McKinney. "I’m going to get better at that. So that’s the only thing."

Perryman, meanwhile, has to overcome a perceived lack of height.

While he might be listed at 5' 11" Perryman actually checked in a few fractions shorter at the Senior Bowl weigh-in. It's a little-known fact that the NFL actually rounds up and down from the nearest half inch on their league-sponsored websites, rosters and the like once players enter the league.

“I’ve been pretty much getting knocked for my height since I got to high school, getting recruited," said Perryman. "My play makes up for my height. I don’t play like I’m 5-11.”

Perryman isn't embellishing. He was most definitely productive in college, racking up 343 career tackles and being named a first-team All-ACC selection the last two years. He thinks comparisons to San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland are accurate, because of the lack of height.

For the Packers, however, it's about finding the best inside linebacker possible when they're on the clock with the 30th overall selection in the first round.

Do they want to go with the shorter Perryman, the taller McKinney, or do they want to go with a more prototypical Eric Kendricks or Paul Dawson? Or in other words, does Perryman's other qualities and traits make up for his stature?

“Just look at the tape," said Perryman. "Say my name and you’re going to get a physical, hard-nosed downhill dog.”

It all comes back to the Packers fining that true, three-down linebacker. Having a "hard-nosed downhilll dog" is nice, but can Perryman hold his own in coverage downfield?

"Whether it’s the Packers or another team, I feel like I can come in and make an impact," said Perryman.

Perryman's self-confidence is inspiring, but whether he or McKinney are able to make an impact won't be known at the Combine, and it won't be known on draft day.

Not until they step onto an NFL field surrounded by elite talents will we find out if they have what it takes.

 

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Comments (12)

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lmills's picture

February 21, 2015 at 10:16 am

Good article Brian. I still like Perryman, but definitely think that Kendricks, Dawson, Wilson and Pullard are more likely options. They already have a 2 down thumper with Barrington. We need a 3 down LB that can stay on the field. If they can't find a 3-down LB, i don' t have a problem with shifting Matthews inside on passing downs and bringing in another OLB to fill his spot. However this isn't ideal. We shall see.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 21, 2015 at 10:36 am

A LB that can cover the athletic freak TEs that are out there and stop the run is not available at 30 for the Packers. That's a rare dude with freakish strength and speed.

What I would like from a potential LB pick at 30 is the ability to cover a more traditional TE effectively. Guys like Heath Miller or Jason Witten. Strictly from a match up perspective, McKinney's length is advantageous.

For run support, I tend to think that most 300+ o-line will negate any LB they can get their hands on so I prefer the guys that are hard for those guys to get their hands. That would tend to favor Perryman.

I don't worship at the alter of combine results but they do have some value. I'll be curious to see how these two stack up vs each other.

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4thand1's picture

February 21, 2015 at 11:54 am

If you have a Stud like Suh or Nagata up front it makes an ILBer job a lot easier. The Packers need someone like the 2010 version of Raji back in the middle.

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slit's picture

February 21, 2015 at 03:39 pm

Paul Dawson, questions solved.

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ES 1957's picture

February 21, 2015 at 04:50 pm

I like Dawson best of the ILBs but wonder if there might be a way to move up a few slots and get Malcolm Brown. Getting a stud DT may be more important than ILB and the top 3 in this draft are miles above the rest.

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jh9's picture

February 21, 2015 at 09:10 pm

Any player taken in the 1st round should have the ability to start on day one. As much as the Packers need an ILBer, every one of them in this year's draft is a "project" of some sort and none of them are a sure thing to start.

Since both Guion and Raji are question marks at DT, I believe TT will draft a DT in the 1st round. I think the Packers will draft an ILBer, but I don't expect TT to reach for one. All the ILBers we're talking about here will be gone by the time the Packers pick in the 2nd round and I would be very surprised if TT traded up to take a project. I think we should be looking at the Packers taking an ILBer in the 3rd round or lower. One player who should be available in the later rounds and who has the potential to develop into an ILBer who can defend both the run and the pass that no one is talking about is Taiwan Jones from Michigan State.
http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1868398/taiwan-jones

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4thand1's picture

February 21, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I like players that step up in big games.

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jh9's picture

February 22, 2015 at 04:05 pm

I wrote the above comment regarding Taiwan Jones before the combine. After watching Taiwan Jones perform at the combine, I was disappointed. He was slower than I thought he'd be and his footwork was awful.

In fact, all the ILBer's looked like they would have a hard time covering a speedy running back. On the whole, it was a disappointing performance by all the ILBers today. If the Packers are going to get a starting ILBer out of this group, TT will have to really pull a rabbit out of a hat!

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DraftHobbyist's picture

February 22, 2015 at 05:58 pm

After the Combine, Dawson destroyed any talk of him going in the first round. He's going to have to salvage his stock at his pro day, because wow those were surprisingly horrible numbers. Perryman is still short. His numbers were okay, but I'm not really interested. I don't see Perryman as a 1st rounder.

The two guys I do see as 1st rounders are McKinney and Kendricks and I'm interested in both. McKinney is the more athletic big guy. I like him. Kendricks is an undersized coverage LB, his numbers were just okay, but he did enough for me to continue to like him.

I mentioned Ramik Wilson before, but the Combine has made it more clear in my eyes. This is a guy that is under-hyped right now. I was right that his burst is just average so the plays where I saw good burst must've been an exception or maybe the video was sped up slightly, but his other numbers are solid in a way that make people overlook him.

Ramik Wilson ran a 4.81 40 so people will say he's a 4.8 guy, but his official was actually a 4.77, which is fine. His height is a short 6'2" (for those who don't know what a short 6'2" is, it means he's actually 6'1.7" and they are rounding up, while a tall 6'2" would be a guy who is over such as 6'2.4" and they are rounding down) which is fine. His 10-yard split was 1.67, which is decent. He's 237 lbs which is fine for his height although maybe he could bulk up a little. He did 23 bench reps which is not going to wow people but is a good number. 35" vertical, 9'3" broad, and 33" arms are numbers that don't stand out, but they are solid numbers. Add in a Jr season with over 130 tackles and a Sr season with over 110 tackles, and he played in the SEC, and you have a dang fine player here. I still think he's a Day 2 pick but would be happy to end up with him.

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4thand1's picture

February 23, 2015 at 12:10 am

Don't say hammy. It should be spelled hamy because it would be a 4 letter word like FUCK.

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4thand1's picture

February 23, 2015 at 12:10 am

Don't say hammy. It should be spelled hamy because it would be a 4 letter word like FUCK.

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jh9's picture

February 22, 2015 at 07:42 pm

Ramik Wilson and Stephone Anthony performed as expected but they helped themselves because everyone else looked so bad!

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