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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Ronnie Perkins brings starter-level upside to New England’s defensive edge

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: LB Josh Uche

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 Big 12 Championship Game

With the offseason workout program in the books and training camp being kicked off later this month, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.

Today, the series continues with linebacker Ronnie Perkins.

Hard facts

Name: Ronnie Perkins

Position: Outside linebacker/Edge defender

Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 52)

Opening day age: 21

Size: 6-foot-2, 255 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Perkins arrived in the NFL as a third-round draft selection by the Patriots this year. Naturally, the 96th overall selection has comparatively limited experience at the pro level: while he did participate in New England’s voluntary offseason workouts, mandatory minicamp and rookie developmental program, the youngster has yet to put on his pads and compete in a full-speed game setting. That said, he did just that quite a bit during his time at the University of Oklahoma.

A four-star recruit out of high school, Perkins received more than 30 scholarship offers before arriving in Norman in 2018. He immediately showed his potential and over the next three seasons appeared in a combined 33 games — including 25 as a starter. Perkins finished his college career with 16.5 sacks as well as one forced fumble. He also had 99 combined tackles, with 32 of them resulting in a loss of yardage. His productivity also led tot him being named to the second All-Big 12 team on two occasions.

What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a strong sophomore season at Oklahoma, Perkins had to start his junior campaign five weeks later than the rest of his team. He was still serving the remainder of a six-game suspension handed down the previous year and in turn did not take the field until late October. When he did, however, he immediately resumed his role as one of the Sooners’ most disruptive players: Perkins two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit in his season debut against Texas Tech.

That game was a sign of things to come. Perkins appeared in only six total games after his suspension, but he still finished the season with 33.5 quarterback disruptions: he had 5.5 sacks as well as 9 hits and 19 hurries. Perkins, who also notched 24 tackles, may have had his best game against 14th ranked Oklahoma State in November. Registering a pair of sacks as well as five tackles, he was named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week after the contest. Following the season, he added second team All-Big 12 honors to his résumé.

Perkins looked very good down the stretch in 2020, and decided to take advantage of his momentum. Instead of staying in school for his senior season, he decided to leave Oklahoma as a junior and enter the NFL Draft. While he was unable to participate in the Scouting Combine — the event was canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic — he was able to show his athletic talents during his program’s Pro Day in mid-March.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? Perkins was used as a defensive end at Oklahoma, but he has been working with the linebacker group since arriving in New England. Heading into his rookie season with the Patriots, he is therefore expected to play a rotational role on the edge: aligning as an outside linebacker who has experience playing in a stand-up role and with his hand in the dirt, Perkins could see some package-specific action in 2020 with a potential focus on his pass rushing prowess.

What is his special teams value? Perkins offers experience in the kicking game and New England could use him in the game’s third phase as well during his rookie campaign. He is a candidate to play as a pressure player on field goal and extra point attempts, and also to be used to attack the pocket on punt return plays. While he might be used in a specialized role, Perkins should be expected to play at least 10 percent of kicking game snaps.

Does he have positional versatility? Even though he saw some snaps in different alignments during his college career, Perkins is an edge defender through and through: 90.5 percent of his snaps in 2020 came aligned either over or outside of the offensive tackle. That being said, the Patriots like their linebackers to be versatile and it would not be a surprise to see him get some off-the-ball snaps as well moving forward.

What is his salary cap situation? Perkins has not yet signed his rookie deal, so he is officially not yet under contract with the Patriots. That being said, once he signs his deal he will get a $660,000 salary as defined through the rookie wage scale. Salary cap expert Miguel Benzan also expects the youngster to receive a fully guaranteed $213,891 signing bonus proration for a salary cap hit of $873,891.

What is his roster outlook? Given his status as a third-round draft selection, Perkins is guaranteed a spot on New England’s 53-man roster this year. The main question heading into the season is therefore how his role will look like. While a lot can change during training camp and preseason, the 21-year-old has the athletic foundation and experience to carve out a rotational role along the defensive edge right away. He does offer starter-level upside, but the Patriots’ depth at the outside linebacker spot will likely prevent him from being used in such a fashion as a rookie.