Versatility, toughness and physicality — that’s what the New England Patriots saw in Ronnie Perkins.
The Patriots snagged Perkins late in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft on Saturday night, selecting the Oklahoma edge rusher with the 96th overall pick.
In his post-draft video conference, head coach Bill Belichick explained what drew the Patriots to the Perkins, who consistently was disruptive over his three seasons as a Sooners starter and was expected to come off the board much earlier.
“Ronnie’s a versatile player,” Belichick said. “He’s played on both ends of the line — both left end and right end, strong side, weak side. He’s also reduced down and played some 3-technique. He’s dropped (into coverage) on occasion — not very much; most of the time he’s in the rush. Not always, but most of the time he is.
“There are times when he lines up on the edge, on a tight end, on the tackle, and there are times when he lines up in the guard/tackle gap. So if you watch him, you get a number of opportunities to evaluate his playing strength — especially against bigger people — his toughness, his effort, his instinctiveness. He’s a versatile player that is productive in the running game.
“He’s, again, been productive in the passing game. He’s instinctive on plays like screens and reverses and things like that. He has a pretty good nose for the ball, and he’s a tough player. He’s tough, and he’s physical. He has a good playing style. He played on, obviously, a very good team, a good program, high level of competition and did well.”
Perkins played mostly as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in Oklahoma’s defense, but he projects as a stand-up edge rusher with the Patriots given his size (6-foot-3, 253 pounds). He said he had multiple pre-draft conversations with Steve Belichick, New England’s outside linebackers coach. Chase Winovich made a similar transition when he joined the Patriots in 2019.
Perkins said he is comfortable at either spot and that Patriots fans will “love” his style of play.
“In the long run, I definitely know the Patriots fans will love me,” said Perkins, who expressed his admiration for Patriots greats Willie McGinest, Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore. “Just from watching the past Patriots defensive greats, I definitely know they will love me and the way I play. … 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.”
Perkins registered 16 1/2 sacks and 32 tackles for loss over his three seasons at Oklahoma, including 5 1/2 and 10 1/2 in just six games in 2020. A failed drug test before the Sooners’ 2019 bowl game resulted in a six-game suspension that wiped out the first half of his final collegiate season and likely contributed to his draft-night fall.
Many draft analysts had Perkins pegged as a second-round prospect, with Pro Football Focus and NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah ranking him 43rd and 44th on their respective big boards. He wound up being selected more than 50 picks later.
Belichick said the Patriots felt “comfortable” drafting Perkins after doing their pre-draft research. Asked about his suspension, Perkins said he was “dealing with some off-the-field stuff that kind of affected me on the field.”
“(I) went through some off-the-field things that I really just had to get figured out as a person,” he said. “… So really just taking the whole situation and learning from it and taking it into this draft process and learning from that situation. Just becoming an NFL player, learning not to make that mistake again and learning how to deal with that off-the-field issue.”
New England grabbed another defensive player with its first pick on Day 2, trading up to take projected first-round D-tackle Christian Barmore after he slid to 38th overall. Improving their suspect front seven has been a clear offseason priority for the Patriots, who also added outside linebackers Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy, inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan and defensive linemen Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams during their free agency spending spree.