Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the defensive edge was no obvious area of concern for the New England Patriots. They brought in Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy as unrestricted free agents, and invested Day 2 selections in Chase Winovich and Josh Uche over the previous two years.
When a good player falls into Bill Belichick’s lap, however, he does not refuse to take him just because of supposed positional depth. This year, that player was Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins.
After picking quarterback Mac Jones and defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the first two rounds, thus addressing two of the more prominent needs on the roster, the Patriots let the board come to them at No. 96. Perkins was the best player available at this point for the organization, and it ended up picking him to further bolster the edge.
“Honestly, it’s surreal,” said Perkins shortly after getting drafted by New England. “My mind can’t even wrap around it. Just to get the opportunity to get coached by Coach Belichick is the most mind-blowing thing in my head right now. Honestly, I’m so excited tonight. I just can’t even wait to go in and learn from Coach Belichick, the younger Coach Belichick, like I’m just excited for this whole opportunity. I just can’t wait.”
The younger Coach Belichick Perkins was talking about is Patriots outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick. The most experienced member of the team’s defensive coaching staff, and the unit’s next man up behind his father, was also the one getting to know Perkins during the pre-draft process.
As the 21-year-old defender pointed out, the experience was an intense one for him.
“I spoke to the Patriots I wouldn’t say a lot of times, but I spoke to them a few times. I would definitely say walking away from the interviews that I had with them, I felt positive that I did a great job in talking to them. Really the whole thing, like I said, I was mind-blown. I wasn’t talking to Coach Bill Belichick but I was talking to Coach Steve Belichick and I was really still mind-blown that I was talking to somebody who is part of the Belichick family,” he said.
“You mention that name, that’s just one of the most legendary head coaches in the NFL. Just to be talking to his son who will probably be just like him in a few years — definitely talking to him was a huge blessing and I was super excited. Now I’m super excited to go in and play for both of those guys.”
While Steve Belichick was his primary point of contact with the organization, Perkins is no stranger to the team and its history. In fact, as he pointed out, he is actually trying to incorporate some elements of other Patriots players into his own game.
The first two he mentioned are natural fits given his position, but the third player certainly was an interesting addition.
“I’ll say Willie McGinest, Dont’a Hightower. I’d also probably say ... Gilmore, Stephon Gilmore. Just because Stephon Gilmore, he’s a silent assassin. I’d definitely say him because he’s a silent assassin, he lets his play do the talking.”
Over the last three years at Oklahoma, Perkins also did just that: he let his play do the talking. He had a pretty loud voice along the way and registered 16.5 sacks as well as 32 tackles for loss in 33 career games as a Sooner. Even though he did miss six games due to a suspension after failing a drug test as a sophomore, he repeatedly was his team’s best defender and an impact player against the pass and the run.
Despite him aiming to follow the Gilmore example and become a “silent assassin” as well, however, Perkins also established himself as a vocal locker room leader during his time in Norman — something also confirmed by Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
“To say he’s a leader in our program, yeah, he is,” Grinch told OU Insider last September. “He’s a leader on this defense. I need him. Our defense needs him, and [we’re] thrilled that he’s part of us.”
So, what can the Patriots and their fans expect out of him?
“They’ll be getting a great guy,” he said. “In the long run, I definitely know the Patriots fans will love me. Just from watching the past Patriots defensive greats, I definitely know they will love me and the way I play. Just as a person, they’re getting a guy who loves to interact with the community, who loves to interact with the fans, so they’ll definitely see me around New England a lot.
“I just can’t wait to go out there and get there and get the whole thing, like, man, I’m really a Patriot now. I just can’t wait.”