Paul Perkins’ journey from fifth-round pick to the New York Giants’ starting running back was arduous.
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Perkins played his college ball at UCLA. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2012 and became the Bruins’ primary ball carrier after the starter was injured in 2013. Perkins started in four games that season, rushing for 573 yards on 134 carries and six touchdowns.
He began 2014 as the backup but later became the starter. Perkins’ highlight was the 195 all-purpose yards in a 20-17 win over Texas. He was named offensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl, rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the 40-35 win over Kansas State. Perkins finished the season with 1,575 yards rushing, the second highest total in school history.
Perkins was named Second-team All-Pac 12 in his final season, rushing for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns. He decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
He was selected 149th overall. Unfortunately, Perkins wasn’t able to join his new teammates immediately. An NCAA rule prohibited him from joining the Giants until classes were finished at UCLA. As a result, Perkins didn’t participate in any of last year’s organized team activities (OTAs) or spring workouts.
Naturally, Perkins had to play catch up when he was finally able to join the Giants. As the season progressed, the team saw enough progress from him to give him more playing time.
“I think as he progressed last season you started seeing flashes that he needed to get more time on the field,” Giants running backs coach Craig Johnson said. “We gave him more time on the field later and he showed a lot of the things that you’re looking for from a guy that can be a starter in the league.”
It wasn’t running ability that Perkins needed to work on the most but pass protection.
“When he first came in he was probably like a lot of guys because he was reacting to a guy that he saw instead of really understanding what his fit was,” Johnson said. “In this league, you’ll get thrown off balance because there’s tremendous pass rushers. As the season kept going and he started figuring it out and then he just said, ‘I’m going to show people and I’m going to be aggressive and I’m not going to get run over’.”
Perkins’ aggressiveness in pass protecting was on full display in the Week 12 game against the Cleveland Browns. The 208-pound Perkins blocked Browns linebacker Jamie Collins, who outweighs him by 40 pounds. On one play, Perkins put Collins in the dirt.
He was made the starter in the regular season finale against the Washington Redskins. Perkins gained 102 yards on 21 carries in a 19-10 victory that eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs.
Perkins gained 456 yards on 112 carries in 2016, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Last year’s starter, Rashad Jennings, only gained 3.3 yards per carry. It was an easy decision for the Giants to release Jennings and an easier decision to move Perkins up to the starting spot.
“It was Paul and Rashad last year and Rashad is no longer with us, so Paul is the next man up,” head coach Ben McAdoo when he announced Perkins as the starter on May 2.
Perkins gained some weight to prepare for the pounding an NFL starting running back takes, going from 205 pounds to 213 pounds. McAdoo did say Perkins will have the starting job for as long as he can hold it. He is, without question, the best option to carry the ball.
Shane Vereen only played in five games last season after tearing his triceps twice and will be used more in pass catching situations. Orleans Darkwa also finished the season on injured reserve. Shaun Draughn was a free agent pickup and fourth-round pick Wayne Gallman will need time to adjust to the NFL.