There are two central questions regarding rookie running back Paul Perkins. Is he the New York Giants' featured running back of the future? If so, could that future start some time during the 2016 season?
In his 2016 NFL Draft Guide, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports gave the former UCLA running back a fourth-round grade. Brugler wrote:
" ... consistently productive on the field for UCLA with 11 100-yard rushing performances, averaging 5.6 yards over his career. Although not an explosive athlete, he runs balanced with creative run instincts to make coordinated cuts, showing a natural feel to make the initial man miss due to his vision. Perkins doesn't offer much of a power element, but he runs determined with low pad level and toughness. Although he can be a tough player to project because of his limitations as a between-the-tackles grinder, Perkins has the light feet and quick-thinking moves to add another dimension to a NFL backfield."
Why did Perkins, after a stellar career at UCLA. last until the fifth round? Part of that is due to the de-emphasis of the running back position, certainly, but part is also due to the NFL's reliance on size and speed numbers.
Perkins is 5-foot-10, 208 pounds. He isn't considered fast for a running back, timed at 4.54 in the 40-yard dash. An NFL general manager told NFL.com Perkins is a "Poor man's Jamaal Charles. The tape tells you everything on him. He's not big, he's not fast, he has great feet and he competes."
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote:
If Perkins had more size and play strength to go with his elusiveness, we would be talking about whether he or Ezekiel Elliott would be the first running back off the board. ... If Perkins finds the right scheme and team fits for his talents, he could become a high-end committee back early on.
The Giants were thrilled to get Perkins in the fifth round, 149th overall.
GM Jerry Reese after the selection of Perkins:
"All-around player. He can run it. He can catch it. He can block. ... People say he doesn't have homerun 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."
Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross on Perkins:
"... 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, so those were his traits we were attracted by."
Let's take a closer look at Perkins, the eighth back selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, as we continue our series of player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp later this month.
2015 Season in Review
Perkins rushed for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He also caught 30 passes, averaging 8.1 yards per reception. In 2014, he rushed for 1,575 yards and nine scores, averaging 6.3 yards per carry as he became the first UCLA back to lead the Pac-12 in rushing sinc 2011.
2016 Season Outlook
Back to our central questions about Perkins. Can he be the Giants' featured back of the future? What role will he play in 2016?
There are, as we have already seen, questions about Perkins' ability to be a lead back.
Draft Insider Tony Pauline wrote:
Perkins has been a solid ball carrier for UCLA the past two seasons and has underrated potential for the next level. He offers the size, skill and versatility to see action as a rotational back early in his NFL career and eventually develop into a starter.
Dave-Te Thomas of NFL Draft Report wrote that Perkins is "that change-of-pace type who has the receiving skills that could chip into the playing time for the Giants' starting backfield." If you are interested, here is Thomas's full report on Perkins.
So, who's playing time might Perkins chip into in 2016? And how much of that time might he take? Right now, I don't think we can answer that question.
How you see the Giants' backfield depends upon your point of view. You could look at the group of experienced players Perkins joins as a deep, talented group that simply lacks one dominant superstar. Or, you could look at the running back situation as a muddled mass of mediocrity.
I'm not here to tell you which way to see it. The view here is that each veteran back has useful skills.
Rashad Jennings is the best proven all-around back, but none of his skills scare defenses. Shane Vereen is an extraordinary pass catcher, but an ordinary running back. Andre Williams offers power, but we haven't seen vision or ability to find holes. Orleans Darkwa is maybe a younger Jennings. Bobby Rainey is a speed guy.
The one skill none of the Giants' veteran backs appear to have is the ability to make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage, to create more from a play than what appears to be there based on the blocking or the traffic. Watch tape of Perkins, like the highlight video above, and read the reports and that is the skill that jumps out. The quick feet to make a defender miss in tight space, to be there one second and be gone the next. That is the thing he appears to bring that none of the veteran backs have really show, aside perhaps from Vereen after catching a pass in the open field.
Figuring out where Perkins fits in 2016 is complicated by the reality that we have barely seen him. He participated in rookie minicamp, but missed all of the OTAs due to a league rule prohibiting him from joining the team until his class at UCLA had graduated. He took part in the mandatory minicamp, but took a scant number of reps and barely touched the ball. So, we have no idea what role -- if any -- the Giants really have in mind for Perkins.
At the very least, it seems almost certain that Perkins is taking someone's roster spot. That could be Darkwa, who showed glimpses of ability last year but doesn't have the pedigree of the other backs and had the misfortune of missing spring workouts with a leg fracture. That could be Williams, whose pedigree and college success have not translated yet in the NFL. The Giants said in the spring they aren't ready to give up on Williams, but we will see when roster decisions are made whether or not that is just lip service.
The real question will be whether or not Perkins ultimately takes snaps from Jennings or Vereen.
Jennings is coming off a career year, but he is 31 and he is pretty much a "get what is available" back. He isn't a home run threat or a back who makes defenders miss. It figures that Jennings will get, and deserves, first crack at being the workhorse of the backfield. If he struggles, or gets hurt, someone from the Darkwa/Rainey/Williams/Perkins group figures to get those opportunities. Right now there is no telling who.
Vereen did absolutely nothing last season that would dictate him losing snaps as the change-of-pace back in 2016. He caught a career-high 59 passes, averaging 8.4 yards per catch, and ran 61 times for 260 yards, 4.3 per carry. The Giants probably didn't use him enough. Still, if Thomas is right in assessing Perkins' skill set, perhaps Vereen could lose snaps to the rookie.
The future beyond 2016? Impossible to say. Not that long ago, Williams was thought to be the guy who would eventually become the featured back. For all we know, that could still be the case. Or, Williams could be the odd man out.
Perkins, at the least, adds an option to the backfield and brings an exciting style that the Giants have not had for a while.