If there was ever a player that truly bought in to Urban Meyer's vision for the program, it's Joshua Perry. I could go through all of the reasons why, but in this case, a picture is truly worth 1,000 words:
A four-star recruit out of Olentangy, OH, Perry entered Ohio State ready to be molded into a prototype linebacker. Tall, athletic, and most importantly, a playmaker, Perry combined his physical gifts with intelligence and maturity not often seen at Ohio State. This was evidenced by Perry's selection to the 2015 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, one of only 11 FBS athletes to achieve this honor.
But before Perry could become recognized for his achievement, he had to get on the field. Luckily for Perry, getting on the field solely consisted of arriving on campus, as Perry played in 10 games a true freshman (mostly on special teams) during Ohio State's 12-0 2012 campaign.
Once Perry bulked up a little bit as a sophomore, the days of Perry not being an impact player on defense were over. Perry started in over 70 percent of Ohio State's 12 win/two loss 2013 season, making his presence especially known in the Orange Bowl against Clemson thanks to a sack, safety and career high 10 tackles.
While Perry's play wasn't exactly the reason for Ohio State's 2013 defensive struggles, he put to rest any belief that he was a reason for concern among the Silver Bullets during the Buckeyes' magical 2014 march to immortality. 124 tackles were good enough to lead the Buckeyes, and good enough to place Perry second in the Big Ten in total tackles. Most will remember Joey Bosa's walk-off sack against Penn State as the reason for victory, but Ohio State likely wouldn't have even had a chance to win in overtime if it wasn't for Perry's career high 18 (!) tackles on the night.
To say Perry is consistently solid is a bit of an understatement. No, Perry never had the type of gaudy sack and TFL numbers that teammates Darron Lee and Bosa put up. Additionally, Perry only had one career interception, meaning he wasn't exactly Vonn Bell either. NFL scouts are already realizing that consistently solid in Ohio State's defense is borderline incredible anywhere else, and Perry himself isn't one to shy away from pointing out just how special of a prospect he is:
Just realized I was the third heaviest LB who ran the seventh fastest 40 in the group #Hmmm— Joshua Edward Perry (@RIP_JEP) February 29, 2016
2015 was basically what Ohio State fans have come to expect from Perry: excellence. First-team All-Big Ten linebacker honors, combined with an honorable mention All-American nod from SI.com, finally gave Perry a fraction of the national recognition he deserved. While the case with a lot of Buckeyes prospects has been realizing the talent and looking past the lack of production, Perry does not have this issue:
Perry's on the field contributions will undoubtedly be held in high regard by the NFL scouts, but what is it about Perry that has some estimating his name could be called as early as the first round?
Strengths: Size, tackling ability
A prototype linebacker is a player with the size to take the beating that is simply the reality of playing in the middle of a defense, while also having the speed and athleticism to assist in pass coverage and stay on the field for all three downs. Perry passes both of these qualification with flying colors, and his physicality especially was on display in the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Alabama.
Alabama had driven down inside the Buckeyes' 10-yard line, and Ohio State needed a stop. There was little doubt about the play-call that was about to happen, as now Jacksonville Jaguars starting running back T.J Yeldon lined up seven yards deep in the Crimson Tide backfield awaiting the ball. While Perry typically lined up as the Buckeyes' weak side linebacker (thus giving him the ability to freely roam to the ball on most plays), Alabama puts their strength into the boundary, making Perry the focal player at the point of attack.
Perry does a good job of reading run quickly, and immediately proceeds to press the hole. A Bama blocker ends up on the ground and attempts to take out or at least slow down Perry, but thanks to Perry's excellent technique, the block is unsuccessful. Linebackers often deal with blockers attempting to take out their legs (look no further than some of Ezekiel Elliott's highlights), but Perry keeps a solid base and uses his active hands to shove away the low block and keep a strong position. Keeping a strong position is nearly as vital as disengaging the block, because Perry's next job on this play is to meet the running back in the hole, head on.
Despite Yeldon demonstrating pretty great forward lean on this play, Perry stands him up in the hole and does not give up an inch of ground. A common phrase in football is "low man wins", but this isn't always true when the low man is going up against a 6'4, 254 lb monster.
Perry finishes the play by driving his feet through contact and holding on until help comes. When you see tacklers get dragged forward for extra yardage it is often because they stop their feet upon initiating contact, but Perry has consistently demonstrated great form in his tackling, and this was on display as Perry managed to beat the starting Alabama running back in the hole and put him on his back.
Weaknesses: Coverage ability, range
Like most things in life, being really good at one skill in football can often leave you susceptible elsewhere. For Perry, having the great 6'4, 254 lb frame is fantastic for meeting running backs in the A-gap, but it can prohibit Perry from guarding quicker running backs in space as a pass defender. Nowadays the NFL is looking for linebackers who can stay on the field for all three downs and effectively play against the pass, and while Perry was far from a liability in pass coverage at Ohio State, his lack of pass defense numbers point towards a player who doesn't often find himself around the ball when it's in the air.
Best Case NFL Comparison: Dont'a Hightower
At 6'3 265 lbs, Dont'a Hightower is a bit bulkier than Perry, but has proved to be irreplaceable for the Patriots. Injuries have limited Hightower to 12 games in each of the past two seasons, but Hightower combines the size to play in the middle of the Patriots defense with the athleticism to be a terror off the edge on third down. Can Hightower always match up with elite running backs and tight ends in the open field? No, but most middle linebackers can't. A team that can utilize Perry's underrated pass rush abilities can provide another reason to keep Perry on the field for all three downs, and we shouldn't doubt Perry's ability to develop himself into whatever he needs to be to succeed on the field.
Worst Case NFL Comparison: Brandon Spikes
While Perry's athleticism surpasses Spikes', if Perry is unable to become a consistent three-down linebacker in the NFL, his career could end up looking a lot like Spikes. The third to last pick in the second round of the 2010 draft, Spikes lasted four years as member of the New England Patriots, but proved to be enough of a liability against the pass that the Patriots parted ways with the linebacker prior to the 2014 season. A year later and Spikes is not currently on a NFL roster. A far drop for the consensus college All-American, but another example of just how important it is to stop the pass in today's NFL.
NFL Projection: Round 2-3
While Darron Lee may have won the combine, Perry likely earned himself some extra money too, thanks to his great performance. Perry's rare combination of physical attributes, on-field performance, and impeccable character off the field show a player that any NFL team would love to have, and for that reason it would be shocking to see Perry not be drafted within the first three rounds.
Most "Joshua Perry" Play:
For a guy who was often overshadowed by his flashier teammates, Perry often wasn't the guy who you saw on the ESPN highlight reel, and this is what made one particular moment in 2015 so great. What nearly started off as an ejection turned into a five minute ode to Josh Perry, as his massive hit on Minnesota's quarterback led to a pick six by teammate Vonn Bell, and repeated replays of Perry sending the quarterback into tomorrow.
Want more Josh Perry? Head on over to Eleven Warriors where Perry himself is writing about his journey to the draft. Unlike some pieces of literature that have left me doubting the likeliness that the player actually wrote it, these pieces are 100 percent Perry and really give a cool insight into his draft preparation. Thanks for a great career Josh, best of luck at the next level.