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NFL Draft

What Changed For Breshad Perriman Late Last Season?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 21, 2020
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The New York Jets’ wide receiver corps is a bleak place. 2019 free agent acquisition Jamison Crowder returns to his starting role in the slot after a solid year as the team’s only reliable receiving option; second-round rookie Denzel Mims, considered by many as a steal outside of the top 50, is sidelined by a hamstring injury in camp; journeyman speed threat Breshad Perriman seems like a knockoff Robby Anderson, just a first-round bust hanging around in the league as a field-stretcher.

That description may be true to a degree—but an underestimation of Perriman’s recent receiving profile is an easy trap to fall into. Yes, Perriman was straight bad for the Ravens in his first three years in the league, missing his whole rookie season with injury, and then never securing passes and running routes with the necessary consistency to hang in the NFL. He was cut before his rookie deal was completed and picked up by the Browns on waivers, a longshot reclamation project likely to fade into obscurity with the many before him.

But just because he’s on his third team in three years doesn’t mean he’s followed the expected path. In fact, Perriman is not only entrenched in his niche—he’s one of the best in it altogether.

For context, Perriman’s numbers in this regard—yards/reception over 15, yards/target over 9—put him on a list with DeSean Jackson, whose role he took over in Tampa Bay’s offense, Mike Williams, Josh Gordon, Kenny Golladay, Tyreek Hill, Tyrell Williams, and D.K. Metcalf, among others. That’s a list of the premier deep threats in the NFL—and Perriman is more explosive than all of them save for A.J. Brown, whose one-year numbers in Tennessee’s offense are as shocking as they are likely to regress.

Perriman has put up these numbers in fits and starts. A street free agent when the 2018 season started, he took his first snaps for the Browns in Week 7 and saw only two targets across the first two games before settling into his field-stretching role for the Browns. Perriman would average an astounding 22.3 yards/reception across the final eight games of the year for Cleveland, only averaging three targets a game as the majority of the targets went to Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and the less effective Antonio Callaway.

Perriman was to play another year for the Browns, but decided to leave the team following the blockbuster trade for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He signed with Tampa on a one-year $4M deal to fill their WR3 spot opposite Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but through the first five games of his Tampa career, he had only three catches on 16 targets, missed three games with a hamstring injury, and produced this play.

Following this Week 8 game against the Titans, there were calls for the Buccaneers to cut Perriman before the deadline for compensatory pick calculations. Perriman would have potentially returned to the Buccaneers a fifth-round selection, somewhere in the 170s. That pick was, at the time, arguably more valuable than Perriman.

The Buccaneers did not cut Perriman. They experimented with late-round rookie Scotty Miller, pushing Perriman to WR4 status—but by Week 13, Perriman was not only back above Miller, but he was a new player altogether. Perriman saw 37 targets across the last five games of the season as opposed to 32 targets in the first games he played. His catch rate doubled (34.3% to 67.6%), his yards/reception nearly doubled (12.64 to 20.24), and his yards/target actually tripped (4.34 to 13.68). 

The light went on for Perriman, and perhaps multiple switches controlled the circuit. For one, hamstring injuries removed both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin from the last couple of games of the season, as well as Miller, which opened the door for Perriman to see more volume. But increased volume usually does not spell increased efficiency. It does, however, indicate new opportunity.

Perriman started seeing more vertical outside targets in those final few weeks of the season than he had in the first several weeks of the year. He also began seeing scoring opportunities instead of just field-stretching responsibilities in the base offense. Perriman saw only two targets inside the opponent’s 35-yard line before the month of November, as opposed to the 18 he saw in the final two months of the year. 

Perhaps the urgency of another impending free agency period also amped Perriman up. His routes just got plain better, as he was more urgent working his releases and more diligent running through the whistle as he began to see more volume. Take the difference between this vertical route against the Titans in Week 8 and the Falcons in Week 17. Perriman simply finishes the play in Week 17, and it turns an interception into a completion.

Whatever confluence of fortune, opportunity, and intensity led to this second wave of a Perriman breakout, it once again spelled cash for Perriman. His $4M paycheck from the Buccaneers became a $6.5M paycheck from the Jets on a one-year deal—and with little wide receiver competition in the building for Perriman, he seems destined for the attention he received during the back end of his Tampa Bay campaign: WR1-esque.

The Jets and Sam Darnold are accustomed to their primary receiver being a vertical-based speed threat, as Anderson received 90-plus targets in each of the three seasons in which Darnold has played in New York. Accordingly, if there is a situation that will elicit consistent production from Perriman—the next step in his continued development as a valuable specialist receiver in the NFL—it’s this one.

It may not be at the same eye-popping explosiveness as he’s flashed over the last two seasons, but Perriman has the ability to be a big-play WR1 for the Jets, and a sufficient foil to stick-mover Crowder and talented tight end Chris Herndon, for whom the Jets have big plans. Many players without Perriman’s draft capital get the second chances that he’s received to this point, and as such, now is the time for him to capitalize for hitting the market one last time for the big deal that a first-round pick is expected to warrant.

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