When they are handing out jerseys at the University of Miami, they don’t give No. 52 to just anyone.
If you’re getting Ray Lewis’ old number, you’re expected to be a tenacious, fast and bone-thumping linebacker.
Denzel Perryman, one of the top inside linebacker prospects in the upcoming NFL draft, did his best over the past four seasons to live up to the linebacker legacy at Miami as he racked up 351 tackles and earned two all-ACC first-team selections.
“First time I ever talked to Ray Lewis was my freshman year,” he said. “He came to speak to the team and afterward he pulled me to the side, I guess he already knew I had No. 52.”
Lewis, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Ravens, attempted to pass on some knowledge.
“He had been watching me,” Perryman said. “I pretty much just feel like he had eyes over me no matter what. Recently, he was out there at the school and he just told me to get ready with this process.”
After the 2013 season, he received a third-round NFL draft projection by the NFL Draft Advisory board and elected to return for his senior season. He then started all 13 games in 2013 at outside linebacker and 37 of 47 in his career. He led the team with 108 tackles, including five for losses and 1 ½ sacks. He had one forced fumble.
Despite a disappointing 2014 season for the Hurricanes, Perryman was one of the few bright spots. He finished with 110 tackles including 9.5 for losses.
He was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, which goes annually to the top linebacker in college football.
He followed that with a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl, but suffered an oblique injury. He also injured a hamstring at Miami’s Pro Day. That gives some people pause as well as his size: At just under 5 feet 11 and 242 pounds, he is projected to be an inside linebacker in the NFL.
“They like how I go downhill, they like how I take on blocks,” Perryman said. “Some scouts (want) to see my man-to-man coverage, my technique on that I just need to brush up. As far as my pass coverage, some of them were impressed at the Senior Bowl.”
Other top inside linebackers in the draft are Texas Christian’s Paul Dawson, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, Clemson’s Stephone Anthony and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney.
Perryman doesn’t want to take a backseat to any of the other prospects even though his stock has been dropping throughout the process. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had him going 28th to Denver in an early Mock Draft. But he is no longer in Kiper’s Mock and is not on the “others to watch” list.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has Perryman as the fifth-best inside linebacker.
The Falcons, who are restructuring their defense, were in Coral Gables last weekend to meet with the linebacker.
“I’m smart, I’m physical, I’m a downhill, hard-nosed dog,” he said.
“It would mean a lot,” Perryman said to be the first inside linebacker selected. “One of my goals when I first started playing football was obviously getting to the NFL. Now I’m here and I might be the first (inside linebacker) taken. That’s a blessing.”
He was coached in Pop Warner football by his father Desmond Perryman. The elder Perryman also coached former Hurricanes and future NFL players Frank Gore and Roscoe Parrish.
It seems as though Perryman has been knocked for his height since he was playing for his father. “My play makes up for my height,” he said. “I don’t play like I’m 5-11.”
He has drawn some interest from teams that use a 3-4 alignment.
“I talked to the Eagles, briefly,” he said. “Met with the linebackers coach and we just sat down and talked about 3-4 defense, they pretty much ran the same thing we ran at Miami. So it was pretty much second nature to me.”
Perryman could go to the Green Bay Packers, who hold the 30th pick.
“We don’t have a big-time, top-15 pick at inside linebacker in this draft,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, but where (the Packers) are positioned at 30, I think you could see a run on these guys. Perryman from Miami is probably going to go around there.”