Name: Nick Perry
Projection: Late First/Early Second round
In his time at USC, Nick Perry very quickly went to work establishing a name for himself. After redshirting during his freshman year in 2008, Perry got playing time in the 2009 season and early on he showed signs of being a force for USC. As a back up he played in all thirteen games—including his first start against Stanford—and recorded 24 tackles, nine of which were for losses, and had a team-best eight sacks. At the end of the season, he racked up a ton of accolades: he made the 2009 Football Writers Freshman All-American first team, the CollegeFootballNews.com All-American first team, Sporting News Freshman All-American first team, Phil Steele’s Freshman All-American first team, ESPN.com Pac-10 Freshman All-American first team, and the Sporting News All Pac-10 Freshman All-American first team.
Yeah, that’s A LOT of first teams. And he was just getting started.
In 2010 Perry started in nine games as a defensive end and appeared in 12 games total for the season. He had 25 tackles including 7.5 for losses, four sacks, three deflections, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. By this point, it was clear that having Perry coming off the edge was pivotal to USC’s defensive prowess, as his size and speed combination enabled him to deftly get around opposing linemen to the quarterback.
He pretty much exploded in 2011, further making a case for himself as a worthy draft pick if he would choose to leave at the end of the season. He started every game this past season, and ended it with an incredible stat line: 54 total tackles and 13 for losses, three pass deflections, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and—probably the most impressive of them all—led USC and the Pac-12 conference in sacks, with 9.5 for the season. That was the most sacks recorded by a Trojan since 2007. At the end of the season, USC named him the defensive lineman of the year and was also a finalist for the Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s best defensive end. Naturally, at the end of the season Perry elected to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
So what have we learned from him?
Well, for starters, Perry is an excellent pass rusher. He has proven to have a superb control over his body, to be able to change directions or to get his hands up quickly to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. Collapsing pockets and getting to the QB is something that comes naturally and effortlessly to him. He’s someone that a coach would want to anchor his D-line, as he has proven to produce, and produce a lot.
Off the edge, Perry is unquestionably explosive, and has the natural flexibility and skill to maneuver his body so that he wins that edge. On the other hand, he is not a sudden pass rusher, and sometimes does not time his jump off right.
As far as his run defense, he has shown that he has very good reaction time to plays, and knows how to get to the play from different angles. He has a keen understanding of leverage and plants himself under blockers and their pads, which often attracts holding penalties.
Tackling is probably his second strongest point aside from his ability to get through pockets. He rarely reacts to fakes and he has solid hand strength to secure tackles. According to scouts, his arm strength is still less than ideal, but he works hard make fundamentally sound tackles by wrapping up and bringing down the ball carrier.
In terms of transition to the pro level, many experts consider him a “tweener” because he could be a 3-4 outside linebacker or a DE, depending on who picks him up. Experts also say that while he his resume does speak volumes about his production, he has questionable instincts when tasked with dropping into coverage, and late in the game he often looks tired and fatigued, so he still needs to show better conditioning. Perry however wants to stay at DE, so he gained 10 pounds of lean muscle in the offseason to convince scouts that he should. However, he is still considered kind of undersized, and could find himself overwhelmed by larger blockers.
Come draft day, look for Perry to either middle to late in the first round, or early in the second. Many teams are desperately in need of a pass rusher, so his position in the draft seems to be up in the air. Currently, CBSSports.com has him ranked third at his position, and 23 overall. Their writers have him going anywhere from 12th to 20th overall. ESPN AFC Blogger Bill Williamson says he could possibly go18th overall to the San Diego Chargers, who also need a defensive face lift. Other scouts like Mel Kiper think that is too high; Kiper says that if he stays on the board, he would be major value in round 2 to a team like the Carolina Panthers. So really, Perry could end up at any number of teams. But one thing is clear: he is regarded as a strong pass rusher, and wherever he goes, he has that USC pedigree to enable to continue to flourish at the next level.
The NFL Draft starts Thursday, April 26th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, with coverage provided by the NFL Network. Nick Perry will be in attendance for the ceremony, so be sure to tune in to see where this Trojan will end up.