With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror and training camp set to kick off later this month, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 86 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with second-year linebacker Ronnie Perkins.
Name: Ronnie Perkins
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 51
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6-foot-2, 255 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? Perkins arrived in the NFL as a third-round selection by the Patriots in last year’s draft. Despite coming off the board 96th overall, however, his impact on the team was a rather limited one: Perkins did not see any in-game action during the season, spending his rookie campaign in a redshirt setting. His résumé at the pro level is therefore limited to practice reps and preseason appearances, but that does not mean he lacks experience competing at a high level; he did just that 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 2021 season look like? After showing plenty of promise down the stretch in 2020, Perkins 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 the Coronavirus pandemic impacted his pre-draft preparation — the Scouting Combine was canceled — he was able to show his talents during his program’s Pro Day in mid-March and eventually came off the board as the 96th player taken.
Despite his draft pedigree and upside, Perkins’ impact on the New England defense as a rookie was virtually non-existent. He missed two games each due to shoulder and ankle ailments, spent time on the Covid-19 reserve list, and was sent to injured reserve in mid-December, presumably because of said ankle injury. The team did open his 21-day return window after three weeks on IR, but Perkins never returned to the active roster and in combination with several healthy scratches ended the year without any in-game action.
That does not mean he did not gain valuable experience as a pro. For starters, Perkins was able to participate in a majority of practices during training camp and the regular season, albeit at times in a limited capacity. He also saw action in all three of New England’s preseason games: aligning as an outside linebacker on both sides of the formation, he played 96 of a possible 204 defensive snaps (47.1%). Perkins registered six quarterback hurries as well as four tackles in the running game and two more versus the pass.
Additionally, the Patriots game him regular opportunities on special teams. Appearing on four kicking game units, Perkins took the field for 28 snaps (of 72; 38.9%) and finished with one assisted tackle. What this preseason usage shows is that New England saw the 2021 season as a foundational and educational year for the young linebacker. Maybe that would have changed at one point had he been able to stay healthy through the regular season, but at the end of the day he effectively was redshirted in Year 1.
What is his projected role? Perkins was used primarily as a defensive end at Oklahoma, but he has transitioned to outside linebacker since arriving in New England. Heading into his second season with the Patriots, he is therefore expected to play a rotational role on the edge alongside Matthew Judon and Josh Uche. The 22-year-old, after all, offers experience playing in a stand-up role and with his hand in the dirt, which means that he could see some package-specific action versus the pass and the run.
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. Look no further than the 2021 preseason, when 96.9 percent of his snaps came as a traditional outside linebacker (the rest saw him align in a coverage formation in the slot). That being said, the Patriots like players at the position 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 special teams value? As noted above, New England’s coaching staff did not shy away from giving Perkins opportunities last preseason to prove himself in the kicking game. He saw action punt and kickoff return units (8 snaps each), was used on punt coverage (6), and as a force player on the field goal and extra point blocking squad (6). His special teams output will likely be tied to his defensive role, but it would not be a surprise to see Perkins carve out a regular role on a handful of units.
What is his salary cap situation? Upon joining the Patriots last spring, Perkins signed a four-year $4.74 million rookie contract with the team. The 2022 portion of that pact sees him carry a salary cap hit of $1.09 million that is structured in a pretty straight-forward way: he is playing on a $877,539 salary as well as a fully-guaranteed $210,154 signing bonus proration. The resulting cap number is enough to qualify for Top-51 status, meaning that Perkins is counting against New England’s books even during the offseason.
How safe is his roster spot? Based on his draft pedigree, potential, cheap contract and the Patriots’ uncertainty along the defensive edge, Perkins can be seen as a relatively safe be to make New England’s roster this season. While it remains to be seen what kind of role he will play for the team, and how prominently he will be featured in the edge rotation, anything other than him contributing in some shape would be a surprise. Looking at the depth chart, frankly, the team will need him to.
One-sentence projection: Perkins will be the third member of the Patriots’ outside linebacker rotation, and finish the season as one of their most effective pass rushers.