2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Middle Linebackers

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Oct 4, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Miami Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) in action against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Denzel Perryman, Miami

Denzel Perryman is considered by many the top middle linebacker prospect of this draft. A four-year starter for Al Golden at the University of Miami, Perryman was a true 4-3 mike backer in college, and while he didn’t rack up Eric Kendricks-like stats, he has put together four years of solid three-down production for the Hurricanes, and was twice named all-ACC. Listed at 6’0″ and 242 pounds, he has the edge on Eric Kendricks in terms of size, though not by much, Perryman is very similar to his UCLA counterpart in that he is a quick, instinctive, aggressive player who attacks downhill well and generally wraps up and completes tackles, though his tackling has been inconsistent in 2014. Perryman plays well in pass coverage as well as against the run. He does struggle sometimes to engage blockers down near the line of scrimmage, and can often be taken out of a play by an offensive lineman. The aggressive Perryman also shows a tendency to over-pursue and end up trailing a play, and his lack of top-end speed means he would probably get burned doing this in the NFL. He will have to show a few things in the Combine to bring his draft stock – which may have slipped significantly in the last few months, especially after an injury during Senior Bowl practices – back up.

1. Bench Press: again, Raider GM Reggie McKenzie is a bench press enthusiast when it comes to selecting linebackers, and Perryman will want to show well in this drill. Primarily because if he doesn’t, it reinforces the idea that he isn’t strong enough to take on blockers at the NFL level, which will put him squarely in the middle rounds as an NFL prospect. While a player with Perryman’s frame should be expected to perform well in the event, a really good bench press number can impress some decision-makers because if an instinctive player like Perryman can back it up with good upper-body strength, it suggests he can see the field somewhere aside from special teams as a rookie.

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  • 2. Wave Drill: the Wave Drill is a classic old-school linebacker drill. The linebacker stands five yards in front of a coach, who is usually holding a football. The coach then initiates the drill by simulating a snapped ball, and then, based on what he does with the football, the linebacker either shuffles left, right, or backpedals – simulating a run to the left, run to the right, and a pass play. The coach then either gives a verbal command or pulls the ball in, signaling the linebacker to attack toward and then past him. What this drill does is test both the reaction time and the feet of a linebacker, and his ability to react to rapidly changing keys, a valuable skill for a middle linebacker, especially in the era of the read-option and the packaged play. One of the biggest knocks against Perryman is that he has a tendency to over-pursue or attack too early, and as such can take himself out of position, especially on misdirection plays. If he can grade well in this event, he can put some of those fears to bed, and by working on this drill prior to the combine, he can improve his ability as a middle linebacker and put some work into fixing a weak spot in his game.

    3. Pass Drop/Hip Rotation Drills: these drills simulate passing scenarios, and either require the linebacker to attack downhill then reverse into a 45-degree pass coverage drop, or simply backpedal and then shift laterally like a zone defender, and end with the linebacker breaking on a thrown ball and making a pick. This is a great drill for coaches looking to be sure a player projects well in the passing game, though Perryman has shown on tape already that he can. In Perryman’s case, it will reinforce his tape, but will also be another opportunity to show his quick change-of-direction ability and good footwork, something that scouts say may be lacking in his game. And, of course, working on this drill will help him improve as an NFL linebacker down the road.

    Next: Linebacker to Watch: Benardrick McKinney