When the Washington Redskins selected Oklahoma's all-time leading rusher Samaje Perine in the fourth round, NFL thinkers believed he was a strong Day Three selection and even could be a dark horse to earn playing time as a rookie.
"Well, there's a lot to like," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He was very productive in his years at Oklahoma."
Perine was indeed very productive as he finished his Big 12 career with 4,443 scrimmage yards and 51 total touchdowns in three years. Those are better college numbers than Robert Kelley and Matt Jones combined; who before the Perine pick were expected to be in a training camp battle for the workhorse running back position.
The odd man out suddenly looks to be 2015 third round pick Jones because the general manager that drafted him and was his biggest supporter in the organization, Scot McCloughan, is not longer with the team and Perine is a similar player as a physical over a finesse runner.
"He's a physical runner, without a doubt," Gruden added. "Nobody can argue that point. We got a chance to interview him, sit down with him at the combine. He's also a leader-type player, but really when it comes down to it, he can get from here to there – physically. He's a physical runner and had a lot of production and a lot of yards. He's a great kid. I think he's got a chance to be a special team player also. He's done some of that in his career. Can't argue the production and the toughness that he has, and that's what drew us to him."
Another key point to note from that evaluation from the head coach is that Washington can already see Perine contributing in the third phase of the game, which is why Mack Brown was active over Jones for the second half of last season.
But, do not think that Perine is simply a downhill runner just because he would "much prefer to go through you than around you" in his own words. The former Sooner is working on improving his allusiveness in the open field and ability as a pass catcher.
"I’ve been working on making people miss throughout this whole [draft] process, so I’ve gotten better at that," Perine said. "Working with bags and working with cones – just making moves on those bags and cones and having a coach standing at the end and making a move on me really quick."
“Don’t really have much game film of pass catching, but that was something I also worked on throughout this process," Perine said about his skills as a receiver. "And you know my hands have gotten a lot better, route running has gotten a lot better.
Moreover, you might want to just consider Perine the gift that keeps on giving, he is also well recognized as a solid pass protector, which is usually a college running back's biggest adjustment to the NFL. His secret? Pride.
"Pass pro has always been something that I’ve prided myself on starting from high school and continuing that process through college," Perine reflected. "So I feel like my pass pro is pretty good. You can always get better at stuff but coming out, as a starting point, I feel like my pass pro is pretty good.”
One would think that Kelley and change of pace back Chris Thompson are near locks to make the team's 53-man roster in late August. As a fourth round pick, the Redskins have made a sizeable investment in Perine, which almost ensures him a roster spot. Unless Washington were to keep four running backs on the Week 1 roster, which seems unlikely since last year's seventh round pick Keith Marshall could be on the practice squad, Jones seems like the odd man out.
There have already been reported rumors that the Burgundy and Gold were shopping Jones, but Gruden has a good enough poker face to not give any hints.
“He’s here just like everybody," Gruden began. "I’ve mentioned it before, you sign a guy, it doesn’t mean the end of the world for a somebody who was his backup or what have you last year. Everybody has to come in here and compete. Anybody who knows me and the way we’ve done business here in the past, we play the best player. We don’t play the politically correct player, we will play the player who performs the best, and everybody is going to get a chance.”
The last portion of the statement may or may not be a dig at former Rookie of the Year winner Robert Griffin III, but regardless the odds are currently stacked against Jones from suiting up against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilDalal96.
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