Because he was a first-round draft pick in 2015, because he was a big-play wide receiver headed to a Ravens team in need of them, Breshad Perriman has long been expected to do big things. But he has disappointed for so long, and in such a big way, that it has somewhat obscured all the small things he’s missed along the way to the Ravens’ roster bubble.
Perriman hasn’t forgotten. The fourth-year player has many faults, but memory is perhaps not one. After what was certainly the best and maybe most important preseason game of his career, a 33-7 win Thursday night over the Los Angeles Rams, he stood before his locker and a wave of reporters in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the words “TRAY DAY 2K17,” in honor of his close friend and former Raven Tray Walker. The cornerback died in March 2016 from injuries suffered in a dirt bike accident.
Perriman, 24, didn’t play in the first half of Thursday’s game. He finished with three catches for 71 yards anyway, including a 32-yard touchdown from quarterback Robert Griffin III. He was asked what the performance did for his confidence.
“It's definitely a confidence booster, just going out there, getting a few plays under my belt of being back in the end zone after ... two years?” Perriman said, chuckling. He has scored so rarely that it was not hard to remember his last touchdown, a 53-yard catch-and-run against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 4, 2016.
He continued: “Definitely a confidence booster, man. Just feeling great. A great feeling. Just thankful that R.G. threw me the great pass that he did in the end zone, and every other pass he [threw] to me was just perfect. Just thankful for God for me being here.”
Perriman is a man of faith. He believes God has a plan for him. But as Perriman counted his blessings in the Ravens locker room at M&T Bank Stadium, his gratitude seemed specific.
“Because I've been hurt,” he continued, “I haven’t really been playing in preseason since my whole career. So just thankful to Him for allowing me to be here.”
Coach John Harbaugh has long criticized the NFL’s preseason schedule as needlessly dangerous for players. He has also acknowledged its value to them. Last August, he said that to “establish yourself as a guy who can win in this league,” players need to “stack performances.” One good game might be a fluke; three in a row is a trend.
Perriman’s problems have started there. Over 27 games in his regular-season career, Perriman has 43 catches on 100 targets for 576 yards and three touchdowns. In his preseason career, he has played in three games. This preseason, he already has set a career high with two games.
Player development occurs on a continuum. Players who improve in the preseason can (and often do) hit a developmental wall in the regular season. Others who are forced to miss training camp altogether can (and often do) rebound once healthy. Injuries have limited Perriman’s progress at wide receiver, but if his showing Thursday pointed to the importance of good health in July and August, it is the timing of those injuries that have been especially devastating.
As a rookie, the No. 26 overall pick suffered a PCL strain in his right knee on the first day of training camp. When he returned to practice ahead of a Week 3 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he suffered a setback while going through an on-field pregame workout. He underwent arthroscopic surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
In 2016, Perriman suffered a partially torn ACL in his left knee on the final day of organized team activities. He avoided total reconstructive knee surgery and returned in time to appear in the team’s final preseason game, in which he had two catches for 25 yards. The regular season that followed remains the best of his career: 499 receiving yards, three touchdowns and no games missed.
Last year, Perriman strained his right hamstring early in training camp. He worked out before the team’s third preseason game, but did not return to practice until a month after his injury, in early September. He struggled early, missed a game with a concussion and was a frequent healthy scratch toward the end of the season. He finished with just 77 receiving yards.
This offseason and preseason, he has had to deal only with questions about where he might fit in the Ravens’ future. It is better than the alternative.
“Here is a guy that has been battling back from injuries,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “Obviously, he is taking a lot of heat. He’s a young guy, he’s a good person, he works very hard. He has been under siege a little bit, and that’s part of it. He understands that as much as anybody. But I think he deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s handled it. He’s handled it professionally on the outside, but also on the inside.”
Perriman’s participation this training camp has been consistent, even if his play has not. Some days, he’s invisible. Others, he’s toasting a third-string cornerback on a deep pass. In the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 2, he dropped an easy ball from Griffin that became a Chicago Bears interception. In Thursday’s fourth quarter, he glided upfield on a go route and won a jump ball in the corner of the end zone, a collection of words rarely assigned to Perriman throughout his career.
He called the performance something of a relief — not because of his earlier drop, which he said he’d moved past, but because it was a flash of his old form, the one that’s mostly MIA. Wide receivers coach Bobby Engram had said Sunday that Perriman “just needs to go out and make plays," and he had.
Every drop, every catch, every little thing matters for Perriman ahead of the Sept. 1 53-man roster deadline. Free-agent signings Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown, all top camp performers, are shoo-ins. Beyond that, the crystal ball gets foggy. Chris Moore likely is next in line. Behind him are Perriman and his apparent competition: sidelined slot receiver Tim White, free-agent signing DeVier Posey, draft picks Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, and undrafted rookie Janarion Grant.
Perriman knows what his past has held, and also what the future might not. Yes, he conceded Thursday, he knows he is playing for his job this preseason. But he said he cannot concern himself yet with the big picture. He’s running “in the right direction” now, he said Thursday, one small step at a time.
“I control that, for the most part,” he said. “I know if I just focus on me and my game and play with all of my ability, all of my God-given ability, I won't have really no worries.”