Just a couple of days ago, the NFL released two of their “Making the Leap” pieces, which feature an up-and-coming player ready to breakout in 2016. Two players they spotlighted were Chargers second-year linebacker Denzel Perryman and Raiders tight end Clive Walford.
Shortly after, NFL Network argued which of the two players will have a bigger impact, with two of the three broadcasters (David Carr and Chris Canty) making their case for Walford. Here’s why they’re wrong:
Last season with the Chargers, Perryman started in only nine of the 14 games he played in. In those 14 games, Perryman made an immediate impact with 73 tackles including two sacks and one forced fumble.
With the Raiders last season, Walford started in two of the 16 games he played in. His impact was less significant than Perryman’s, with 28 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
Ironically, the two are products of the University of Miami, both selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Perryman was taken slightly earlier with the 48th overall pick, while Walford was taken 68th overall. Walford is the larger of the two, standing at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, with Perryman coming in at 6 foot, 245 pounds.
It’s easy to compare physical attributes and overall pick number between the two. What’s tough to measure here is impact, especially between a linebacker and a tight end.
Dec 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Clive Walford (88) during warm ups before the game against the Green Bay Packers at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
When analyzing Walford, Carr (brother of current Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, no bias there right?) made it clear that he was “obviously gonna go with Walford.” He stated that he liked his ability to make it down the middle of the field, and that he’ll be the one to change the game. Canty, a former defensive end, talked about his ability to assist the run game with his size and blocking ability.
The only problem here is that Walford is pretty unlikely to be their go-to guy. The Raiders are fairly stacked on offense this season. Derek Carr is coming off an impressive sophomore campaign, thanks in large part to his receiving core of Amari Cooper (72 receptions, 1,070 yards, six TDs), Michael Crabtree (85 receptions, 922 yards, nine TDs) and even Seth Roberts (32 receptions, 480 yards, five TDs). Carr also targeted running back Latavius Murray 53 times last season, resulting in 41 receptions.
Of the five tight ends on the Raiders’ roster last season, three caught passes combining for 72 total catches on the season, tying Carr’s second option, Cooper.
Obviously Walford is going to start more than two games this season barring injury setbacks or some sort of other issue. He’s only going to get better as he continues to play in the NFL. The only problem is it’s hard to see him making more of an impact on the team than he already did last season.
Offensive schemes change, yes. But it’s clear that including the tight end is not a priority for Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, outside of blocking and the occasional redzone package. Last season, the Raiders had their first 1,000-yard rusher (Murray) since Darren McFadden in 2010. In his history as an offensive coordinator, Musgrave appears to go with the ground game more often than not, especially when he has a talented running back to work with, having spent time coaching both Adrian Peterson and Fred Taylor in the past.
Not to mention, he suffered a “gruesome” injury during the offseason when he was involved in an ATV accident that resulted in a big gash on his knee. He missed OTA’s, valuable time to continue learning how the NFL works.
Dec 24, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) is tackled by San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te’o (50) and inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) during overtime at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Raiders defeated the San Diego Chargers 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
On the other hand, Jamie Dukes, who sided with Perryman in the NFL Network discussion, explained how now that he’s in his second year he’s due for even more growth. He said one thing he’s noticed about about linebackers’ second seasons: “They get their eyes open, they get things right, they know what they’re seeing,” stating that Perryman will be able to see the things he needs to see to become an elite defender. As if his vision wasn’t already good enough.
Last season, Perryman finished first on the team in solo tackles (64) and third in overall tackles behind Manti Te’o (83) and Eric Weddle (75). He also started four less games than Weddle and three less than Te’o. He finished fourth on the team in sacks, behind Melvin Ingram (10.5), Jeremy Attaochu (six) and Corey Liuget (three).
Towards the end of the 2015 season, it was clear that Perryman started to take a leading role on the San Diego defense. He fits perfectly into defensive coordinator John Pagano’s run-stopping scheme. In the final seven games of last season, Perryman ranked second in the NFL in stop percentage, according to NFL.com.
Not to mention, he’s going to have a FAR improved defense surrounding him. Te’o and Attaochu have come into their own, new acquisitions Joey Bosa and former-Seahawk Brandon Mebane are teaming up with Ingram on the defensive line, and Jason Verett leads an improved secondary. With all of this talent around him, Perryman will have more space to fill gaps and stop the run, rush blitzing lanes and dominate his opponents like he did at The U.
Speaking of The U, during his time there, he was constantly compared to another pretty well-known linebacker who played there during his college days: Ray Lewis.
It’s a steep comparison, especially to have so early during one’s career, but so far he’s done pretty well at filling those shoes. He wears No. 52. He’s 6’0″ compared to Lewis’ 6’1″, and both weigh 245. During his first season with the Ravens, Lewis started in 13 games, racking up 95 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Imagine if Perryman had started just four more games, his numbers might have been even better.
If he continues to follow trend, Perryman will have well over 100 tackles next season (Lewis had 156 in his second season), and officially establish himself as one of the league’s elite linebackers.
Unfortunately, only time will tell who actually has the bigger impact on their team’s success this season. Needless to say, both will be premier players for some time should they continue improving on their stellar rookie year performances.