Paul Perkins may only be a fifth-round draft pick who isn’t routinely mentioned among the hyped rookies entering the NFL in 2016. But he may ultimately turn out to secure a very productive role for the New York Giants.
It’s not often that late-round draft picks enter the NFL and take a team or the league by storm, and after being passed over 148 times during the 2016 NFL Draft, there’s little reason to believe New York Giants running back Paul Perkins will.
However, sometimes there’s just an ideal fit that leads to rapid development and unexpected production. And for Perkins, that’s exactly how things appear to be shaping up in East Rutherford.
Even with a unique blend of talent to compete with — from veteran Rashad Jennings to the pass-catching Shane Vereen — Perkins offers the Giants something entirely different. He’s a speedy back capable of handling the bulk of the carries, can haul in passes out of the backfield, will rapidly grasp the playbook and will see his ability in pass protection drastically improve after working with the coaches.
“All-around player. He can run it. He can catch it. He can block,” general manager Jerry Reese told Giants.com after drafting Perkins in April. “He’ll play on all of the core teams. Solid football player. People say he doesn’t have home run speed, but I saw him on an 82-yard touchdown against Colorado. Really good, solid football player. I like him a lot. He’s a three-down player.”
Although Perkins clocked in with a 4.54 40-yard dash time, his exceptional agility and quick feet allow him to play much faster than his time would indicate. He’s able to cut on a dime, change direction in a flash and break ankles while doing it.
For the Giants, this would mean less instances of ball carries running up the backs of their blockers — something we saw out of Andre Williams as a matter of routine a season ago. It also means more broken tackles around the line of scrimmage and more opportunities for big gains.
Coming out of college, Pro Football Focus had Perkins graded out with a 114.7 elusive rating, which was first among draft-eligible running backs, while also crediting him with one broken tackle per 3.2 attempts, which was second among all draft-eligible running backs.
Additionally, Perkins was contacted behind the line of scrimmage on 25 percent of his runs in 2015 (61 in all). In those situations, Perkins average 3.5 yards per carry after contact, which would be a drastic improvement for the Giants.
Along with his quick feet and ability to break tackles, Perkins also offers the Giants a little versatility out of the backfield.
“He is a complete back, he has great vision, he has got one-cut quickness, excellent hands, competitive in the blocking game and outstanding off the field,” vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross said. “So those were his traits we were attracted by.”
While Rashad Jennings is no slouch when it comes to hauling in passes from Eli Manning, it’s certainly not his specialty. That, of course, is why the Giants went out and added Shane Vereen, who almost exclusively fits that role.
With Perkins, the Giants gain a larger element of surprise. Defenders have to be wary of his ability to break a big run or to create a missed tackle, but can’t entirely commit to the line of scrimmage because he could just as easily dart out of the backfield and haul in a pass. At that point, his feet and tackle-breaking ability once again become paramount.
During his time at UCLA, Perkins hauled in 80 receptions for 739 yards and two touchdowns. And those numbers would have likely been greater if his ability to pass protect was more sound.
“The two most important things for a running back: number one, protect the ball; number two, protect the quarterback,” head coach Ben McAdoo said.
At the end of the day, if Perkins is able to refine his pass protection and ensure no rookie lapses will lead to an injury of Eli Manning, the sky may very well be the limit. And even if he doesn’t start the season as the team’s every down back, there is a very real possibility he grows into that role prior to the conclusion of the season.
There’s a lot of increasing hype and pressure Perkins must live up to, but his athletic ability is undeniable. The Giants got a steal in Round 5, but now it’s a waiting game to see just how much of a steal.