Listed height: 5’10”
Listed weight: 235
Age: 21.4 (turns 22 in September)
High School Ranking: .9033, 4-star (247)
Samaje Perine enjoyed a decorated three-year career as an Oklahoma Sooner. He helped propel his team to a national semifinal and an additional 11-win season, provided countless highlight-reel runs, and left as the highest-achieving rusher in program history. He seized the main role in the backfield from the beginning of his career, setting the all-time NCAA record for single-game rushing yards in his 11th game since being in high school.
That season was his statistical pinnacle, as Joe Mixon and a constantly-depleting offensive line contributed to decrease his production year by year. At some point, despite holding a greater rushing role in the offense, Perine saw the majority of his acclaim and spotlight taken away from him by his counterpart. Nonetheless, the powerful runner continued to work his magic, as he eclipsed Billy Sims’ record for career rushing yards at Oklahoma in his final game. It speaks to Perine’s ability that despite an additional mouth to feed and a weakened blocking group, he still managed to set the juggernaut program’s record in just three seasons.
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Interestingly enough, Perine’s production and efficiency actually decreased every season, which obviously isn’t a very good sign. However, there is important context that helps explain this phenomenon. In his freshman season, Perine was allowed to enjoy the Oklahoma backfield largely to himself, behind three All-Big 12 linemen.
The next season, those three and another rotation member all departed from the team, leading to this aforementioned efficiency drop-off. To compound the production problem, Mixon entered the backfield, immediately seizing a role alongside Perine. Although Mixon carried the ball half as often as Perine, this chunk of volume in conjunction with turnover up front was enough to cut over 300 yards off of Perine’s season total.
This past season saw another roster churn in the trenches. Two all-conference players again departed, and another starter from 2015 sustained an injury that kept him from playing for the entire season. Mixon took a bigger slice of Perine’s share, this time nearly equalling his carry total. Finally, the big back missed roughly a month due to a leg injury, so he missed about 60 potential carries over the three games he sat out. It is not encouraging to see a player’s production consistently fall from season to season like Perine, but it’s a rare occurrence for circumstances to hit a player like they hit Samaje. Thus, we can’t really take anything away from him because of this descent.
Samaje Perine entered college with a body resembling a bowling ball, and still certainly has a thick build now. He’s a touch short, and has packed muscle all over his frame. The back still looks like the stereotypical bruiser you’d see in a goal-line back. However, he manages to use above-average feet; for that reason, such a build is a pretty big plus, as he enjoys the benefits of considerable momentum with much more athleticism than the typical steamroller possesses. I’d prefer him to be an inch or two taller, particularly to let him use stiff arms more frequently, but you can’t complain about how he’s filled out his frame.
Ball security: not alarming
There’s not much discussion to be had here about many back prospects, and Perine is no exception. He holds the ball correctly and braces for contact when defenders approach. He fumbled twice a season, for a grand total of six fumbles in 685 carries, less than one percent of the time. Simply put, Perine has fumbled in the past, but there’s nothing to indicate that fumbles will be a problem for him in the pros.
By no means is the Oklahoma back fast, but he certainly possesses what I like to call “functional quickness.” He is powerful planting his foot and running and has shown surprising ability to move past the line of scrimmage. However, his size does hinder him some, so he doesn’t squeeze through tighter lanes as well and it’s easier for him to get caught from the side in the hole.
The Sooner began his college career legitimately slow. He deserves a lot of credit, though, because he’s turned into a player with near-average open field speed. He’s still not fast by any imagination, but he has enough speed to break long runs into touchdowns. Against NFL secondaries, he’ll likely be caught before the goal line often, but for a skill that doesn’t matter a ton in his projected role, that’s not much of a problem.
Perine gets to top speed pretty quickly… but that top speed isn’t that difficult to get to, as mentioned before. The problem is that once he reaches his second level speed, there’s not really an additional gear he shifts to once he’s in a simple footrace to the end zone.
Still, Samaje’s efficient acceleration provides value. The back is often at top speed by the time he leaves the hole, meaning pursuing defenders either can’t get to him in time or must greatly change their pursuit angles. Regardless, Perine regularly turns decent gains into gashes by exploding through holes and forcing tacklers to adjust.
I can count the number of times Perine shook a tackler over eight games on one hand. Even then, “shaking” might be a generous term. Elusiveness is easily his biggest deficiency. For a runner of his style, moves would be a bit of a luxury, but you’d still rather he have some than none. It’s not necessarily an issue that he doesn’t possess any, but it certainly does limit him when he has the ball outside.
Poor elusiveness would seem to suggest that he’s not very agile either, but that’s really not the case. Perine showed lots of room for improvement in his freshman season, with frequent wasted movement in cuts, but credit again goes to him for improving upon it. As soon as the middle of his next season, Perine showed flashes of actual excellence in navigating blocks and adjusting course. As things stand now, his lateral movement is pretty dang solid, which is quite impressive for a guy with his build. Unfortunately, at some times he’s simply too big for his own good, and thus can’t move well enough to avoid mess in the trenches, so I can’t bump his agility grade up any more.
It’s truly a treat to watch Samaje Perine’s power. With his decent feet, you’ll often find yourself lulled asleep into looking at some thick dude who’s got pretty good feet. Then he comes back to running inside. Yeah, he’s got that down.
Head-on power. Nonchalant stiff arms. Crushing momentum. Machine-like legs. The ability to carry a 310-pounder on his back five yards. Perine possesses all these attributes. He also did this (yeah, I know it’s Texas Tech, but come on) in his sophomore season.
Here are some bonus clips that didn’t quite fit. Enjoy.
I have no complaints with how the back runs. He lowers his shoulders when contact approaches, allowing him to better leverage his size and yield an extra few yards. He’s tenacious at the goal line. Perine’s love for contact reaches into other areas like pass blocking. He doesn’t bother getting cute with bouncing outside or waiting for a hole that won’t open up. Nevertheless, he understands when patience is necessary. His running style overall is mature and quite appropriate given his skill set.
Perine’s size, strength, style, and balance integrate to make him an absolute load to bring down all over the field. He is simply great at staying on his feet, no matter who hits him or how he is being hit. Some of the extreme samples of his ability to absorb contact and keep running are kind of incredible. He has shown again and again that he can take big licks to his body and stay upright, keeping his legs moving.
Samaje Perine is generally good with quickly identifying where holes are. He’s particularly adept at diagnosing plays and if they are going anywhere or if he should turn upfield and gain what he can. He struggles at times when reading complex power-run blocking, but is quite adept at adjusting to zone blocking on-the-fly. Overall, his vision isn’t spectacular, though definitely not a barrier.
Pass blocking: B
As mentioned before, Perine does not shy away from contact. He has no problem with stoning blitzing linebackers or chipping defensive linemen. Still, he could definitely be better. His agility proved to be simply not enough a few times over the games I watched. Perhaps a different approach, such as occasional cuts, would help alleviate part of this problem. Nonetheless, he is one of the more effective pass blockers I’ve watched from this class with room to improve, so he certainly shouldn’t be held off the field due to his blocking abilities.
The Sooner doesn’t appear to be much of a pass catcher simply at a glance, and Oklahoma largely proceeded as if he wasn’t. However, he looked perfectly fine in the passing game when given chances. He catches passes naturally, and the only catchable throw he didn’t bring in while I watched was probably his quarterback’s fault.
How does this interesting set of skills and drawbacks fit together? Well, first things first, Samaje Perine will be great running between the tackles. Pretty good feet combined with exceptional power will allow him to make the most of holes he’s given. When he doesn’t receive these holes, he can often leverage his power to at least make a gain of zero into a gain of two or three. His footwork is good enough for him to run off tackle too, where he can use his power to bowl over secondary players.
Outside, he should be functional, as at the very least, he can consistently use his momentum and stiff arms to achieve decent efficiency. Still, he leaves something to be desired on these runs with missing elusiveness and open-field speed, and given the vast supply of backs who can serve this role better, I don’t see him doing much on the perimeter.
It’s hard to separate what I want to happen with him in the passing game from what I expect to actually happen. He is a legitimately good pass catcher and blocker, but I don’t think he’ll get much of a shot to prove himself, at least in the receiving department. Even then, if I look at things realistically, there are much more dynamic receivers available. As mentioned in the last paragraph, many players simply offer a lot more in the open field than he does. I’d expect most of his receiving production to be the result of screen passes.
Putting this all together, Perine projects to be a really good two-down back, with a dash of passing game potential. He should be nice inside regardless of his situation around him. He’ll deftly navigate the trenches and rock ‘backers and secondary when given the chance. I’m just not sure he’ll be allowed to do much more.
- All the tools to be a dominant power runner
- Projects to have a somewhat-limited role
- Little explosiveness in open field
Samaje Perine has been one of the most aesthetically-pleasing running backs for me to watch this off-season. He is a terrific power runner, plain and simple. For such a thick-built guy, he also possesses really nice feet. Still, his lack of elusiveness and breakaway speed provide a decent handicap to his success in a league where playing outside is a staple of every team’s philosophy.
As is the same with virtually every back in this class, the Sooner’s optimal landing spot is in Oakland. He would have a pretty easy time seizing the two-down role which, behind such a dominant line, spells certain fantasy success. Obviously, his worst team to fall to would be one with an established inside runner, but it’s very difficult to see a team spending draft capital in him if they already have that spot filled. After that, a bad offensive line is what can hurt him most, so it’s suboptimal for him to be taken by a team like Minnesota or Detroit. On the bright side, as mentioned in the skill synthesis, he can be fairly effective running behind a poor line, so his value is somewhat insulated from poor line play.
It’s tough to place Perine exactly among his peers at this point in the offseason process, as my opinions on most of them are not as final as they are with the bruiser. As things stand now, he is my fifth-ranked back, behind the near-consensus top four of Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and Joe Mixon, beginning my third tier. This tier is stacked pretty full, so I can definitely see him falling a couple spots, but if he does so, it speaks much more to the depth of this class than Perine’s individual ability. I think he is a Day Two talent as far the actual NFL draft goes, and he’ll probably fit into the late-first to early-second round region of rookie drafts, based on how I finalize my opinions on how landing spots shake out. All in all, there’s a lot to like [note – if you play this video at work, make sure the sound is off] in an under-the-radar guy I could see falling much farther than he should in many leagues. You’d be wise to keep an eye out for him during the NFL draft process and while your league makes its rookie picks.
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