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The Eagles should pursue Breshad Perriman

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Why the Eagles should take the gamble at receiver...

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The siren song of upside has caused many a general manager to wreck their boats upon rocky shores with their enchanting call. It’s a dance that plays out every off-season, with it’s share of success stories and most likely a larger pile of bones. It’s a game the Philadelphia Eagles will have to play in both free agency and the draft as they search for answers with their wide receiver group.

Nelson Agholor is all but gone. Alshon Jeffery could be surgically removed at a heavy cost and even if he does remain his history of injuries and rumored grumblings are foreboding. DeSean Jackson will turn 34 years old during the season and spent the entirety of last year fighting a season-ending injury. JJ Arcega-Whiteside had the tiniest of flashes while being wholly unproductive in his rookie campaign. All of this is known.

The Eagles get their first chance at fixing things when free agency begins in less than a month. There have already been rumors that link the Eagles to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, which isn’t particularly exciting. What else is out there on the market?

One player due a payday that showed up late last year was Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Is it possible that a team, like the Eagles, that became the slowest in the NFL after DeSean Jackson’s injury would be interested in his services? Well, when I put it that way, it doesn’t sound too absurd. Let’s explore that option and take a deep dive into Perriman’s roller coaster ride to this point.

Coming out of UCF, Perriman was seen as a raw play-maker with promising upside and troubling drops. Building on a solid 2013, his 2014 produced the Knights first 1,000 receiver in almost a decade while posting an absurd 20.9 yards per catch, but questions remained and war rooms were divided on his value.

“Arrow is pointed way up on Perriman and he is one of the most discussed prospects in draft rooms around the league. His drops will drive teams crazy, but his physical traits and ability to hit the big play should warrant early consideration.” - Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

The consensus was that Perriman would land sometime early in day two of the 2015 NFL Draft. That stock was boosted when he scorched earth at the UCF pro day.

A hamstring injury had precluded Perriman from running at the NFL Combine, but now the son of NFL star Brett Perriman had the scouting community’s full attention. 6’2”, 212-pound men simply don’t run that fast. Perriman would go on to be selected with the 26th overall pick in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.

Perriman’s rookie campaign was cut short when he suffered a partially torn right PCL on his first day at training camp. Attempting to make his debut in Week 3, he suffered a setback with the injury and ultimately landed on injured reserve after undergoing arthroscopic surgery for a grade 3 tear. During the 2016 June mini-camp, Perriman suffered a partial tear to his left ACL which kept him out of action until the last preseason game.

For a raw prospect, whose game depends on speed, these injuries were devastating to Perriman’s progress. Adding to it, in 2017 Perriman was sidelined with a hamstring injury that kept him out for the entire preseason. It’s a story of stunted development for Perriman, who during his first three years with the Ravens accumulated only 43 receptions, 576 yards and 3 touchdowns. He played in just 27 of 48 potential games in Baltimore.

It wasn’t just his underdeveloped route running or injuries that landed Perriman in hot water. The aforementioned concern from scouts about his scattershot hands proved to be completely warranted. For example, in 2017 his drop rate ballooned to 28.6% per Pro Football Focus, tied for 195th out of 200 receivers targeted on the year. PFF would also grade him as the literal worst receiver in the league for his efforts.

In the 2018 off-season, the Ravens declined the then 24-year old’s fifth-year option and attempted to trade Perriman before ultimately waiving him. At the time, he was one of five first round receivers drafted since 2001 that played in at least 25 games and caught less than 45 receptions. The other four include notable busts like Jon Baldwin, Laquon Treadwell, A.J. Jenkins, and Charles Johnson. That’s not great company, folks.

Perriman failed to find a home until Washington came calling after a rash of injuries hit their receiving corps early in the 2018 season. The contract was for 1 year, 705k, and lasted only a few days before he was cut.

Weeks later he’d land with the Cleveland Browns with an identical contract. Despite a slow start, the low-risk signing paid dividends for the Browns and Perriman. In the last four weeks he’d average 58.3 yards per game and on the season would flash his play-making abilities with 21.25 yards per reception. 16-340-2 isn’t going to turn many heads, but Perriman was able to stay healthy and wasn’t accredited with a single drop.

Following his quietly solid season as a role player, the Browns offered Perriman a 1-year, $4M contract to bring him back. He initially accepted, but only verbally, and on the same day the Browns traded for star wide-out Odell Beckham Jr.. Fearing he’d be lost in the shuffle, Perriman backed out and went on to sign the same “prove it” deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Similar to his time with the Browns, Perriman started slow with the Buccaneers. In his first four games, he caught 3 receptions for 16 yards before a hamstring injury suffered in Week 4 sidelined him for the following two weeks.

It wasn’t until the last five games of the season that Perriman would experience his “break out”. In that span he’d grab 25 catches (11th), for 506 yards (2nd), 5 touchdowns (t-1st), and 2.53 yards per route run (7th). The numbers in that span are nearly identical to Miami Dolphins’ wide-out DeVante Parker, who recently signed a 4-year, $40M extension during the season.

The catalyst for Perriman’s production were Jameis Winston’s propensity for downfield shots, ranking 2nd among quarterbacks in intended air yards (10.5) per NextGen Stats, and injuries that sidelined Chris Godwin and Mike Evans in the last three weeks. Head coach Bruce Arians put Perriman in a great position to showcase his strengths, consistently setting him loose in the vertical third while affording him opportunities to simply run away from out-leveraged defenders on deep crosses and posts.

It’s apparent from the film that the juice Perriman displayed at his UCF pro day is still there. After suffering a pair of knee injuries it might not be the blistering sub-4.3 jets he once had, but it’s most certainly sub-4.4. As proof of that, NextGen Stats clocked Perriman traveling over 20mph with the ball in his hands on five separate occasions throughout the 2019 season.

That speed can deadly when unleashed from the slot, where the Buccaneers often deployed their top play-makers in Godwin and Evans. Perriman was no different, amassing 3.53 yards per route run from the slot over the last five weeks of the season, ranking third in the league.

Given a free release, Perriman’s easy speed is an immediate threat to nickel corners and safeties tasked and turning and running with a top-notch accelerator. It’s a role the previous Buccaneers regime failed to exploit with DeSean Jackson, who went on to spend 48.4% of his routes in the slot for the Eagles in Week 1 last year.

On the year, Perriman grabbed 36 receptions for 645 yards and 6 touchdowns for the Buccaneers. It was the first real glimpse of what the Ravens saw from him that compelled them to select him in the first round almost five years ago.

That’s not to say that Perriman’s game has evolved to where it needs to be to justify that lofty draft status. He’s still a work in progress as a route runner, as he will drift on speed cuts and rely too much on his speed on the whole. He will also still get hung up on contact when playing against press from a plus split.

There’s also the matter of Perriman’s uninspired work after the catch. The Buccaneers quite often attempted to get him set up in space with screens on the perimeter, yielding marginal results. NextGen Stats ranks him dead last in their xYAC differential, crediting him with -2.0 yards on average with the ball in his hands.

But Perriman’s biggest bugaboo on the field, his drops, are largely a thing of the past. Per PFF, Perriman dropped only 1 of his 37 catchable targets in 2019.

All decisions in football are bets. You gamble on upside, like the Ravens did with Perriman, and sometimes you get burned. You gamble on players with a reduced price tag due to a concerning injury history, as the Eagles have done with players like Alshon Jeffery, and you can yield mixed results. Every decision presents a risk and a reward. The question is, how much are you willing to pay for that gamble?

Over the Cap projects Perriman to receive a 1-year, $7M contract this off-season. There’s good reason to believe he’ll receive more than that, given some of the sticker shock signings teams have made at the receiver position over the years. For instance, Donte Moncrief’s 1-year, $9.6M contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 stands out as an example where a team overpaid to secure a players’ services and massively whiffed. Perhaps a historic draft class drops Perriman’s value, but who’s to really say that one out of thirty-two teams won’t make an aggressive move?

It’s easy for me to sit back in my recliner and say that I’m a “cautious yes” on Perriman. Howie Roseman isn’t afforded that luxury. In the zero-sum game of roster construction, it’s a decision where you’re either all-in or you fold. In the case of Perriman, who has plenty of red flags and plenty of untapped potential, I’m torn in two different directions.

If the Eagles can land Perriman on a one-year deal that stays in the ballpark of his projected $7M valuation, I’d push in the chips, take the ride, and throw up two middle fingers to the critics. I’m a “yes” on Breshad Perriman.