Inside LB Countdown: Denzel Perryman

At a position in which the Packers have gone mostly with taller performers, would they make an exception on Miami's undersized but productive Denzel Perryman? During a tremendous career, Perryman ranked among the nation's top tacklers. (Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports)

Denzel Perryman isn’t big and he isn’t fast.

Those two facts have taken him out of the first-round discussion. However, with his excellent production at Miami, he’s probably still a legit prospect for late in the second round. The question is, would he be a consideration for the Green Bay Packers if they’re shopping for an inside linebacker with pick No. 62?

The Packers’ draft preferences are pretty well cut-and-dried. Just look at the inside linebacker group over the last several years. Brad Jones is 6-foot-3. A.J. Hawk, Jamari Lattimore, Terrell Manning and Desmond Bishop are 6-foot-2. Sam Barrington and Carl Bradford are 6-foot-1.

With that history, would the Packers even have Perryman, who measured in at 5-foot-10 3/4 at the Scouting Combine, on their draft board?

Under Ted Thompson, there is one outlier at the position. In the sixth round of the 2011 draft, he grabbed Appalachian State’s D.J. Smith. Smith measured 5-foot-10 5/8 at the 2011 Combine. So, did the Packers make an exception on Smith because it was pick No. 186? Or was it, as Thompson likes to say, “just the way it worked out” that he’s grabbed a bunch of inside linebackers who are at least 6-foot-1?

Regardless of his size or speed (4.78 in the 40), Perryman had a tremendous career.

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

“I find (the questions about his height) funny. I hear the same questions over and over again so it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Perryman is another in a long line of standout middle linebackers that have been produced by the Hurricanes. Since the modern era of the NFL Draft (beginning in 1970), Miami has sent four of its middle linebacker standouts to the league as first round draft choices, starting with Ray Lewis in 1996 (26th overall pick by Baltimore), Dan Morgan in 2001 (11th by Carolina), Jonathan Vilma in 2004 (12th pick by the Jets) and Jon Beason in 2007 (25th by Carolina).

Perryman almost certainly won’t join those four by being selected in the first round, but he lived up to expectations after being given the No. 52 made famous by Lewis.

“First time I ever talked to Ray Lewis was my freshman year,” Perryman said. “He came to speak to the team and afterward he pulled me to the side. I guess he already knew I had No. 52. He had been watching me. I pretty much just feel like he had eyes over me no matter what.”

Perryman is regarded as an early-round prospect with solid wrap-up tackling skills. He does not possess the reactive athleticism of those former Hurricanes, but he is quick to gain position and generate the short-area power to stall the running game once he makes the read.

With experience at weak-side outside linebacker before returning to the middle as a senior, Perryman adds versatility to his resume. He will get most of his draft attention from teams utilizing a 4-3 base defense, as he is a player with a strong base and hand punch, who has good ability to shed blocks, despite lacking ideal arm length. His ability to scrape off-tackle and generate the burst needed to slip through the inside gaps has been the major reason he etched his name into the Hurricanes’ record books.

“I’m smart, I’m physical,” Perryman said. “I’m a downhill, hard-nosed dog.”

Perryman forced his way into the lineup for five games as a freshman. He never finished lower than second on the team in recorded tackles ever since he suited up as a freshman. By leading the team in tackles the last two seasons, he is just the fifth Miami player to accomplish that feat in consecutive campaigns and the first since Vilma paced the defense from 2001 through 2003.

As a senior, he finished 14th in the nation with 79 solo hits among his 110 total tackles. Heeding the words of his coach before the season, he showed marked improvement as a playmaker, making 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including two sacks, and caused three fumbles.

“They like how I go downhill, they like how I take on blocks,” Perryman said. “Some scouts like to see my man-to-man coverage, my technique on that i just need to brush that up. As far as my pass coverage, some of them were impressed at the Senior Bowl.”

With 351 career tackles, Perryman ranks ninth in school history, and was No. 1 among active ACC players and No. 3 among active FBS defenders.

Now, Perryman is looking ahead and ready to show, like at Miami, that his all-around ability make up for his lack of size and speed.

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

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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