Packers Annual Checkup: OLB Nick Perry

Today is the 36th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Today: OLB Nick Perry

Tuesday, March 5: DT Ryan Pickett
Wednesday, March 6: TE Andrew Quarless
Thursday, March 7: NT B.J. Raji
Friday, March 8: Aaron Rodgers
Saturday, March 9: WR Jeremy Ross
Sunday, March 10: OT Derek Sherrod


Season stats: Six games (all regular season); 18 tackles, zero missed tackles, two sacks, eight QB hurries, one batted pass, zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles, one penalty committed

Best game: Week 5 loss at Indianapolis (one sack, three tackles, zero missed tackles, one batted pass; played 53 of 100 defensive snaps; 1.8 PFF rating)

Worst game: Week 1 loss to San Francisco (zero sacks, eight tackles, one QB hurry, in coverage on 10 plays while targeted four times and allowing four catches for 51 yards; played all 67 defensive snaps; season-worst minus-5.7 PFF rating) season rating: minus-1.1 (ranked No. 12 out of 23 among Packers defensive players)

Expectations at the start of the season: Medium

Expectations were … Not Met

Looking live: Perry was drafted in the first round by the Packers in 2012 with the hope (and expectation) that he’d make a good tag-team partner for Clay Matthews as the pass-rushing outside linebackers. Prior to the draft, Perry had some reluctance to play in a 3-4 defense, preferring to play as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Based on his size, Perry — at 265 pounds — is bigger than most 3-4 outside linebackers. That was one aspect that made it a somewhat risky decision by Green Bay’s front office and coaching staff to select Perry with the team’s top pick. In training camp, Perry showed some promising flashes early on, but it was obvious that the transition was going to take some time. Perry’s only real competition for a starting spot was Erik Walden, as undrafted Dezman Moses was still a relative unknown at that point. Though young players (even first-round picks) can take time to develop, the Packers were counting on Perry to contribute in his rookie season, especially given the team’s defensive deficiencies in 2011. Walden was suspended in Week 1, allowing Perry to play every snap in that game. But, after Walden returned, he took the majority of the snaps opposite Matthews, while Perry was on the field for no more than 55 percent of the snaps between Weeks 2 and 6.

Upon further review: Perry’s season ended after only six games once a second medical opinion revealed that he would require wrist surgery. Perry’s left wrist had been an issue since injuring it in Week 1, but he was attempting to play through the pain. Prior to being placed on injured reserve, Perry was not living up to his high billing as a top pick. However, it’s difficult to assess just how much his wrist — which Perry admitted at the time was very painful — affected his performance. He really only displayed one move: a straight-ahead, bull-rush. He relied almost entirely on his power and strength to get by opposing offensive linemen. It worked to some degree, collecting two sacks and eight quarterback hurries in 211 snaps. But, had Perry stayed healthy for the entire season, teams would have quickly realized this about him while studying film and prepared accordingly. It’s necessary for a player to do what he does best, and for Perry, that’s clearly using his size to try to bully an offensive lineman into the backfield. The challenge for him going forward will be finding complementary moves. Also, it only took defensive coordinator Dom Capers one game to discover Perry’s struggles in pass coverage. Perry dropped into coverage 10 times in Week 1 with no success, allowing four passes to be completed for 51 yards. After that, Perry was only asked to drop into coverage 10 more times total over the next month.

Overall 2012 grade: C-

Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster next season. Perry will of course be back in 2013, but what role will he play? With Walden an unrestricted free agent, does general manager Ted Thompson trust that Perry can become an every-down player next season? It’s possible that Green Bay could invest another high draft pick in an outside linebacker to compete with Perry for the starting job, or that the Packers could sign a veteran free agent at that position. Perry didn’t show enough as a rookie to simply be handed a starting spot, but bringing in a lot of competition for him lessens the possibility that the 22-year-old develops at a quick pace. Perhaps it’s Perry, but if Green Bay has a player in 2013 who could take some pressure off of Matthews in pass rush, the Packers would be a much better defense.

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