For UCLA Bruins running back Paul Perkins, playing in the NFL is sort of a family thing. Paul's uncle Don played running back for the Cowboys for 8 years, and Paul's father Bruce played 2 years at fullback for the Colts and the Buccaneers.
Now it's Paul's turn.
After a highly successful, though largely under-the-radar career in Westwood, Perkins left U.C.L.A after his junior season to enter the 2016 NFL Draft. In doing so, he left behind a surprisingly impressive portfolio. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Perkins was the second leading rusher for U.C.L.A. behind QB Brett Hundley. Perkins followed that in 2014 with a Pac-12 leading and #15 in the country 1,575 yards rushing, the second highest season total for a Bruin running back in history (despite leading the conference, he was inexplicably left off the All Pac-12 first team). As a junior in 2015, he again led the Bruins in rushing in with 1,343 yards and he also added 30 pass receptions.
When it was all said and done, his 3,560 career yards rushing at U.C.L.A. was good for third all time for the Bruins, and his 80 career receptions were good for a school record. Had he stayed for his senior season, he would have been one of the premiere running backs in the country and almost certainly would have surpassed Jonathan Franklin's U.C.L.A. career rushing record, needing just over a 1,000 yd season to do so.
Pretty good numbers, right? But does anyone think of Paul Perkins at U.C.L.A.'s best running back ever? Better than Franklin, Gaston Green, Maurice Jones-Drew, DeShaun Foster, Wendell Tyler, Freeman McNeil?
See? Under the radar.
And he goes into the NFL Draft in that same under-the-radar manner. While (the) Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliot is widely, and wisely, considered the top RB in the Draft, and Alabama's Derrick Henry is also getting lots of the spotlight mostly because he's from Alabama, Paul Perkins may quietly be the most complete running back in the 2016 draft class. He isn't the best at any one aspect of the game and that has limited his highlights on ESPN and his name from the national talking heads. But he is very very good at all aspects of the game, and that is what makes him a valuable commodity in a league that doesn't rely on a single big name running back the way it used to.
Perkins broad array of talents is on full display in this highlight video. You see a bit of everything, power at the goalline, speed on the edge and in the secondary, and shiftiness everywhere on the field at any time (check out how he humiliates a poor ASU defender #38 at 0:54 in the video).
Since I know you're wondering, that music is Strength of a Thousand Men by Two Steps From Hell. Yeah, quietly but powerfully epic. A lot like Perkins U.C.L.A. career.
Perhaps this run best shows off Perkins broad skills.
btw, it's way past damn time we beat Stanford.
These defense shouldn't feel bad about missing Perkins. Pro Football Focus noted that he was the NCAA's most elusive running back in 2015.
In a year of great college running backs, you might be surprised to know that Paul Perkins was the hardest one to tackle. He led the country in PFF's elusive rating at 114.7. He forced 85 missed tackles on 265 touches.
Perkins tweaked his hamstring at the NFL Combine and so his 40 time (4.54 sec) and other speed numbers were a bit less that what he is capable, all of which just reinforces the whole under-the-radar theme he has going on. But NFL teams pour over college game films and they'll see the wide array of skills and production that Perkins demonstrated at U.C.L.A.
From the NFL Combine
Height - 5'10'
Weight - 208
Rating 5.76 (chance to be an NFL starter)
40 yd dash - 4.54 secs
Bench press - 19 reps
Vertical - 32"
Broad jump - 124"
As I wrote before, Perkins isn't the top back in any single category, but if he isn't the top all around back in the draft, he's second after Elliott. Perkins biggest strength is his versatility and shelf full of skills: he is a slasher with good speed and still has some strength with all those moves. He has an excellent ability to change direction quickly without losing speed and this makes him sweet in open space and getting to holes along the line of scrimmage. His field vision and patience are excellent, both for finding running lanes and for setting up defenders. He was very secure with the football through his U.C.L.A. career, and he was a very reliable pass blocker last season. Additionally, he was a team co-captain and was a mature leader on and off the field for the Bruins as a junior. An NFL team looking for an all purpose back that can play all 3 downs and all situations except perhaps pure power situations like goal line or short yardage, who is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, and who has excellent character will find everything they need with Perkins.
Perkins looks put together, but his overall frame and stature aren't overly imposing and that can be seen in some of his short yardage runs up the middle. Some of that may have been an issue with the run blocking last season, but Perkins doesn't look the type to bowl over D linemen and linebackers to get that one tough yard on the inside no matter what. A team that just wants a downhill power runner who will consistently grind out tough yards on the inside would want someone other than Perkins. The same issue could apply in pass protection.There's no lack of want in Perkins' blocking, in fact it's just the opposite, but the physics of blitz pickups against NFL sized pass rushers may be a challenge for him.
The name that comes up most commonly as a comparison is the Kansas City Chief's Jamaal Charles.
In the pass happy NFL where the rules give ridiculous advantages to quarterbacks and receivers, running backs have become role players. Teams focus on QB, defense, and then receivers, and they don't build around the ground game and a big star running back. As a result, there are plenty of capable running backs to be found. From a Draft Analyst at CBS Sports:
I wouldn't take a running back in the first round -- even Ezekiel Elliott. Why? I can get a guy like Perkins in the second or third. Perkins was a productive, elusive player in a good conference. He seemed to glide when he ran. I think he's a perfect NFL back.
Perkins' versatility and array of skills still makes him an more attractive prospect because he can fill several roles in one player and a team doesn't have to rely on fielding a power back and a speed back and a 3rd down back. But the de-emphasis on the RB position makes it seem that Perkins could be a reach in the 2nd round, even though his talent might merit that. Most projections have Perkins going in the 3rd round, but if he fell to the 4th round I wouldn't be surprised. That's the lot of running backs in the NFL these days.
But no matter which round Paul is selected, he'll be a great addition to any NFL team. And he'll be keeping that tradition in the family.
Good luck, Paul!