More Than Just Power: Why Samaje Perine Can Be a Three-Down NFL RB
There is an argument traditional power backs do not fit in today’s NFL.
With concerns over the durability due to their physical style and the league’s shift towards offenses reliant on the passing game and stretching the field, power backs are looking increasingly out of place.
That poses something of a conundrum for a couple such runners in the draft, Leonard Fournette and Samaje Perine. There are legitimate concerns over whether Fournette can hold up as a three-down back at the next level, while Perine has received little attention, his presence in the class overshadowed by that of his Oklahoma teammate Joe Mixon.
But Perine does not come with the off-the-field issues of Mixon and has what it takes to be just as effective in the NFL, albeit in a different way.
With Carlos Hyde having largely impressed with the 49ers and – more notably – LeGarrette Blount racking up 18 touchdowns in helping the Patriots to Super Bowl LI glory, there is a place for Perine in the league and his performances at the collegiate level provide little reason as to why he cannot succeed as a pro in the modern NFL.
Perine is your prototypical power back, he has a low center of gravity at 5’11” and 233 pounds and has the strength in his legs to run through contact to pick up extra yards. What stands out, though, is how he seeks out contact and finishes his runs.
This two-play sequence against Clemson from 2015 is an excellent example of Perine’s bread and butter. First he shakes off a defender and lowers his shoulder into the next tackler and nets a decent gain. Perine gets the ball again on the subsequent play and hits the hole with substantial burst, this time knocking down the first defender in his way and falling forward for extra yards.
Yet to categorize Perine as purely a downhill thumper is to undersell his range of abilities. He is one of the better all-around running backs in the draft and is more creative in the open field than he is given credit for.
Perine is far from the most elusive back in the class, however, he does have some wiggle to him as a runner and combines that with a strong stiff arm, using both to good effect to pick up a first down on this play from the Sugar Bowl against Auburn.
His change-of-direction ability is never going to be one the same level as that of Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey, but Perine is able to alter his course and make people miss, with his performance in Oklahoma’s 2015 win over TCU serving as an exhibition of Perine’s blend of power and underrated lateral quickness.
On this run Perine gears down and shows the vision to cut back across, bouncing off a couple of defenders and displaying great balance to prevent himself from stumbling to the ground and pick up a sizeable chunk of yardage.
Later in the same game he again has the vision to find the cutback lane but this time takes the ball the distance after once more bouncing off a tackler.
That should not fool people into thinking Perine can be a consistent home-run hitter. That’s not who he is, as his 4.65 40-yard time at the Combine proved. But, while concerns over his speed over justified, doubts over his capability as a receiver out of the backfield are not.
Perine caught only 40 balls over three seasons at Oklahoma, however, he is more than capable as a receiver and was a highly reliable checkdown option for Baker Mayfield, often making something out of very little as he did on this play from the Clemson game, where he strings together a series of cuts to move the sticks.
The desire he demonstrates on that reception transfers to pass protection. As he does in the run game, Perine seeks out contact as a blocker, keeping his head on a swivel and showing a willingness to pick up secondary assignments.
His attitude to pass blocking was summed up by this play from the Sugar Bowl, where he completely lays out an Auburn defender on a scramble drill.
Concerns over backs wearing down has predicated the rise of a one-two punch backfield and to preserve Perine long term, he is best deployed alongside a pass-catching specialist akin to Mixon.
Indeed, Perine would thrive in a backfield similar to that of the Patriots, in which James White and Dion Lewis took the bulk of the receiving work and allowed Blount to be the hammer.
But, unlike many backs in the class, there should be no concern about leaving Perine on the field for three downs. He has much more than just pure power at his disposal and, while he may not be as talented as Cook or Fournette, he may in time be looked back on as the most complete back in this draft.