When you have a physical presence in the middle of your defense it affects everything. It exudes a certain level of energy off onto the rest of the players. They see you and they want to make plays. They get hyped for you. They play with a certain passion. I see this every day at the high school level. I see this routinely at the college level. Last year, I saw it with the Chargers defense when Denzel Perryman was inserted into the starting lineup. Today we'll continue covering members along the front 7 with the Chargers linebacker.
Before we get into Perryman the player, at least twice a month someone asks or reminds me that I was wrong in my evaluation on Perryman. If you need a refresher, I thought he was the 90th best player out of the 93 players I watched. Even after the Chargers drafted him and after he struggled in the preseason, I went back and watched his Miami games. I saw the same player. Reading back through my notes on him, there is "not finding the ball and playing slow," multiple "doesn't get depth or find man in coverage," then him missing a handful of one-on-one tackles in two of the four games just wasn't a good look. Perryman just wasn't making plays that you needed to make to see the field. What changed? I have no idea. I really wish I could answer this. The first two plays as a starter against the Packers went for gains of 22 and 25 yards. After that, things changed.
The link above I wrote through his four starts. It doesn't take long to tell when a player has "it." Perryman has "it," "that," and whatever else it takes to excel at the position. The eyeball test tells you the Chargers run defense was clearly more effective with Perryman on the field. In San Diego's first seven games, that's one Perryman start, their defensive rush DVOA was 43.6%. The final seven, excluding week 17 when the Chargers fielded their B team, their rush DVOA was 2.1%. 0% is average. The higher the number the worse you off you were.
Quick tangent: IMAGINE HAVING A PLAYER THIS VALUABLE ON THE BENCH FOR HALF OF THE SEASON
Tangent over. So, 1 player alone was the difference between the Chargers run defense being slightly below average when he played the majority of the run snaps compared to the defense being momentously worse when he wasn't on the field. You cannot tell me players don't feed off of this type of play, it's infectious.
Seeing the field
Before I go over how Perryman was as a run defender, I want to talk about him in pass coverage. This is an area where he can improve. Many analysts think if you're slow you can't cover, or even worse if you're fast you can cover. This couldn't be further from the truth. Perryman's issue in coverage isn't so much his speed as it's knowing his surroundings.
You see it in the first clip, but throughout the majority of their coverages Manti Te'o did a good job of communicating routes coming his way and Perryman was late to react. In the second clip, you see Perryman's lack of burst show up where he tries to bait the QB into throwing it, he does, but he just can't close. He gets away with one on the final clip because the Alex Smith made up his mind pre-snap where to throw the ball.
This is the biggest area of concern for Denzel. It's knowing when to get depth whether it's vertically or horizontally and being able to recognize routes as they develop in real-time. This is something to keep an eye on moving forward and what he'll need to do in order to progress into an every down linebacker.
*Turns on the Hot take Oven*
Imagine Takeo Spikes' mentality and physicalness. Pair that with Donnie Edwards' instincts with the ability to finish like Randall Godfrey. Not San Diego's version, but peak Godfrey. If that take isn't fuego enough for you, let me just show you a few plays from the Chargers 2nd rounder in his final five games last year.
(I understand that's a very choppy/sloppy cut BUT)
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED, IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?
Reading back through the notes I had on him is hilarious now considering "he doesn't come downhill consistently" was a thing some idiot (me) actually wrote down. When it comes to run defense, take Perryman's 4.78 40 yard dash, hand it to Darren Bennett and let him punt it into the sky. It doesn't matter. It's irrelevant because he's doing just that, coming downhill.
Sniffing out the play
Sometimes it would seem like Perryman is shot out of a cannon on run plays. Other times, like plays away from him, he would sift through traffic and methodically meet the ball carrier on the other side of the line of scrimmage for a tackle of minimal or no gain. The latter is just as if not more impressive considering the amount of ground the linebacker has to cover. Instincts trump athleticism at linebacker. It's great that Perryman plays downhill, it's even better that he is instinctually reading plays.
Making an impact
About those shot out of a cannon plays. It's one thing to come flying up out of control and reckless. It's another to do so while finishing the play. Perryman did such a good job of getting the offense "behind the chains" on early downs and put the defense in position to get off the field. We all know they didn't get off the field like we'd have liked but the fact that Perryman did his job, and then some, was awesome to watch.
What makes Perryman potentially spectacular is not only the fact he was playing at the level he did as a rookie but in the position he plays in the Chargers defense he's supposed to be the guy that takes on blocks. That's it. If he makes a play here and there, so be it. But to make that many plays? When you're covered? That doesn't happen.
What to expect
I don't toss the term "special" out too much but based on the impact Perryman had as a rookie the future looks bright. Now, he's going to have to stay on the field. He did get banged up and missed a couple games last year. He also is going to have to become more aware in coverage by not only seeing the field but reacting quicker to routes.
In the Te'o article I posted just how well he finished plays.
I suppose if I had a critique for Perryman as a run defender it would be stop being so damn selfish and let others have a chance to make a play. He's fun. He's a finisher. He's the anchor the team needs. San Diego got a good one in Perryman.