Breshad Perriman doesn’t play special teams, but on Wednesday — and at the start of pretty much every practice since the regular season began — he’s on the field early with the Ravens who do. Perriman and his position coach, Bobby Engram, find an empty swath of grass and run through a series of routes. After practice, Perriman is with fellow Ravens receiver Mike Wallace at the JUGS machine, catching balls at different speeds.
Perriman’s struggles since he was selected in the first round of the 2015 draft aren’t because of a lack of effort, his teammates and coaches say. Clearly, his problems are not a byproduct of him lacking desire either. The Ravens who know him best — and he doesn’t let a whole lot of people in — say he cares deeply, perhaps too much. An inability to play through a knee injury in his rookie season left Perriman so distraught that he barely communicated with teammates and coaches.
He’s 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, prototypical size for a receiver, and he’s not too far removed from running the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds. Yet, those traits haven’t translated to success on the field. Perriman, 24, has continually been rendered a nonfactor on game days, further weakening a Ravens offense that struggles to create big plays downfield, the exact thing the wide receiver was drafted to provide.
It’s become a weekly refrain in the locker room at the team facility that Perriman just needs to make a play or two to turn his season around. It was said this past week as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s road game against the Tennessee Titans in a key matchup of AFC playoff hopefuls. However, even Perriman seems to be at a loss for what needs to change in order for that to happen.
“I don’t have a direct answer to that,” Perriman said. “I’m just focused on me improving every way I can and just letting things play out.”
Perriman was often mentioned as a breakout candidate this season because of how he performed throughout summer minicamps. The opposite has happened. In seven games – he missed Week 7 with a concussion — Perriman has just four catches for 26 yards despite being targeted 20 times and playing 52 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, more than every Ravens receiver except Wallace.
Eight Ravens have more catches than Perriman and 10 Ravens have more receiving yards. Perriman has the same number of receptions as Griff Whalen, who was released this past week after playing two games for the team, and fewer receiving yards than running back Danny Woodhead, who played just one offensive drive before he pulled his hamstring in the regular-season opener. Pro Football Focus ranks Perriman 108th out of 109 receivers, ahead of only the Cleveland Browns’ Kenny Britt.
“I can’t hang my head [about] what’s not going the way I think it should go,” Perriman said. “I just have to keep my head up and stay positive and keep grinding. … It’s a daily battle, but at the same time, I can’t let it beat me. I’ve been through things that were way worse than this.”
General manager Ozzie Newsome’s struggles taking wide receivers early in drafts are well-documented. While Travis Taylor (10th overall in 2000) and Mark Clayton (22nd overall in 2005) at least showed flashes, Perriman has disappeared this season when the Ravens have needed him to emerge. With receivers Wallace, Michael Campanaro and Chris Matthews out last week against the Miami Dolphins and Jeremy Maclin limited by a shoulder injury, Perriman played 49 snaps and didn’t have a catch. It was the fourth time this season he’s been shut out.
“Unfortunately, he hasn’t done as good of a job as people expected, but I’m not putting all that on Breshad. I’m not putting that on the organization either,” said former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., now an analyst for NFL Network. “Some of that is unforeseen circumstances. You can’t sit there and tell me that Ozzie is on the hook for drafting a guy that got hurt the first week of training camps and again in OTAs. How dare Ozzie draft a guy that he knew was going to get hurt. That’s not fair. You just have to be careful with expectations and injuries.”
Perriman is certainly not the only first-round receiver in recent years to disappoint. Thirteen receivers have been taken in the first round since 2015, the year Perriman was drafted 26th overall, and only one of the nine taken from 2015 to 2016 — the Oakland Raiders’ Amari Cooper, taken fourth overall in 2015 — has been selected to a Pro Bowl. Like Perriman, Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, Corey Coleman and Laquon Treadwell have all made limited to no impact.
This year’s first-round receiving class consists of three top-10 picks — the Titans’ Corey Davis, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike Williams and the Cincinnati Bengals’ John Ross — and they’ve all had a hard time staying on the field. They’ve missed a combined 15 games and have nine catches between them. Davis, who has been battling hamstring problems, is expected to start against the Ravens on Sunday.
Smith said NFL teams need to be patient in developing receivers because “college football and pro football are vastly different entities.” He also cited how damaging it is for young players to have to deal with injuries and missing out on practice time.
“On-the-job training can never be overstated,” Smith said. “I think it’s unfair criticism to expect a guy who has had the type of injuries that [Perriman’s] had to not lower the expectations, not because he can’t play, but based on some of the circumstances around why he hasn’t been on the field.”
Perriman missed his entire rookie season in 2015 after tearing the PCL in his right knee in the first full-squad practice of training camp. Last year, he partially tore the ACL in his left knee on the final day of organized team activities. He returned late in training camp and played in all 16 games, but Perriman and quarterback Joe Flacco never appeared to be on the same page as the wide receiver caught 33 balls for 499 yards and three touchdowns.
Healthy again this summer, Perriman was the most explosive Raven on the field throughout OTAs and veteran minicamp. A hamstring injury then sidelined him for about a month in training camp and prevented him from playing in the preseason.
“Not being out there, you’re basically not getting better,” Perriman said. “You’re getting better, of course, physically, health-wise. But as far as your game and taking your game to the next level, each day you’re not out there, you’re kind of like staying the same or you’re getting worse. It’s very tough.”
Since Perriman returned, there have been no signs of the dynamic, confident player that gave the Ravens’ top cornerbacks fits this summer. Perriman has struggled to make contested catches, a concern when he came out of Central Florida. What’s also been striking is how hard Perriman has seemingly found it to get separation on cornerbacks. Flacco has taken a couple of deep shots to Perriman in recent weeks, but cornerbacks have run stride for side with the receiver, angling him toward the sideline and not allowing him to come close to the ball.
His teammates insist that Perriman makes plays regularly in practice, but when the games begin, he doesn’t appear to play as fast as his speed indicates he should, or exhibit much confidence and decisiveness on the field.
“I just try to continue to talk to him every day about converting it to the game,” Wallace said. “If you see him at practice, it’s crazy.”
Wallace pointed out that none of the receivers have good numbers, so the focus shouldn’t solely be on Perriman’s struggles. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg also conceded that Perriman hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunities. Mornhinweg said “we’ll see” three different times in response to a question about whether he sees signs of a potential breakout for Perriman.
The Ravens know how hard the past three years have been on Perriman, from the injuries to the struggles on and off the field. In a three-month span after his rookie season, Perriman lost his best friend on the team, Tray Walker, who died in a motorcycle accident, and also dealt with his father, former NFL receiver Brett, having a stroke.
He’s a well-liked teammate and the Ravens want to see him rewarded for the work he’s put in and the perseverance he showed. However, the first half of this season has fueled doubt as to whether that will happen.
With Perriman having only one more year left on his rookie deal — plus a fifth-year option for 2019 — he could be running out of time.
“I know I’m good,” Perriman said. “I know what I’m going to be in this league, so I don’t struggle too much with confidence. But there are some times where I do have to tell myself, ‘I’m that dude. Don’t worry about it.’”
While the struggles of Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman have been well-documented, he’s hardly the only receiver taken in the first round over the past three drafts who hasn’t made a consistent impact.
Player, drafting team; Overall pick, year; Career games; Rec.-Yards-TDs; Pro Bowls
Amari Cooper, Raiders; 4th, 2015; 40; 189-2,627-14; 2
Kevin White, Bears; 7th, 2015; 5; 21-193-0; 0
DeVante Parker, Dolphins; 14th, 2015; 34; 101-1,474-8; 0
Nelson Agholor, Eagles; 20th, 2015; 36; 86-1,040-8; 0
Breshad Perriman, Ravens; 26th, 2015; 23; 37-525-3; 0
Phillip Dorsett, Colts; 29th, 2015; 34; 55-838-3; 0
Corey Coleman, Browns; 15th, 2016; 13; 39-475-4; 0
Will Fuller, Texans; 21st, 2016; 18; 60-914-9; 0
Josh Doctson, Redskins; 22nd, 2016; 9; 10-196-3; 0
Laquon Treadwell, Vikings; 23rd, 2016; 17; 13-157-0; 0
Corey Davis, Titans; 5th, 2017; 2; 7-73-0; 0
Mike Williams, Chargers; 7th, 2017; 3; 2-22-0; 0
John Ross, Bengals; 9th, 2017; 2; 0-0-0; 0