Will Navy football standout Malcolm Perry be selected in the NFL Draft?
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: April 19, 2020
Malcolm Perry has done everything in his power to position himself as a National Football League prospect.
Unfortunately, due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, Navy's record-setting quarterback was not able to do as much as planned to impress scouts and general managers.
Perry was supposed to audition for NFL teams during the Navy Pro Day on March 25. That was canceled after the Naval Academy announced the Brigade of Midshipmen would not be returning to campus following spring break.
Perry, 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, had also been invited to attend combines held by the Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans at each organization's respective facilities, and there were some other NFL franchises that planned to send scouts to the Naval Academy to conduct a private workout.
All those sessions were canceled.
There is no telling how the inability to scrutinize Perry more closely will impact the decision-making of general managers going into the NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday.
"It's definitely frustrating to miss out on opportunities to get in front of NFL teams and show what I can do," Perry told Baltimore Sun Media this week. "Hopefully, the scouts have seen enough to have a good idea of who I am and what I am capable of as a player."
Perry's professional auditions came at the East-West Shrine Bowl and NFL Combine. He worked as a slot receiver and performed impressively in practice at the Shrine Bowl senior all-star event in late January then broke loose for a spectacular 52-yard run while playing quarterback in an option package during the game.
Tony Pauline, an analyst with Pro Football Network, scouted Perry down in St. Petersburg and came away impressed. Pauline posted positive reviews to Twitter regarding Perry's transition from quarterback to wide receiver.
"I thought he did incredibly well at the Shrine game practices. He ran sharp routes and caught the ball well, showing soft hands," Pauline said in a telephone interview this week.
"I see Malcolm Perry as a very smart player, a really tough player -- a guy that plays bigger than his size," Pauline added. "He's not the fastest guy in the world but is extremely quick, especially in initial five yards. That quickness and ability to change direction is what helps him get separation."
Pauline believes the issue for NFL general managers involves projecting a position for Perry, who played slotback for a good portion of his Navy career.
"What is Malcolm Perry's position at the next level? Personally, I like Malcolm as a running back. However, there is a belief among the scouts he may be too small to play in the backfield," Pauline said.
Pauline does not believe Perry will be selected in the NFL Draft, which runs for three days through Saturday. He envisions the dynamic runner as a priority free agent.
"I think Malcolm will get signed and get a chance to prove himself in some team's training camp," Pauline said. "He's going to be a work in progress."
A unique talent
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo disagrees with that assessment, saying the interest from NFL scouts is very similar to that shown for Navy's previous record-setting quarterback, Keenan Reynolds. He made the switch to slot receiver and was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
After spending one season each on the practice squad of the Ravens and Washington Redskins, Reynolds was promoted to the active roster of the Seattle Seahawks and appeared in one game. He was playing for the Seattle Dragons of the fledgling XFL before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the league.
Niumatalolo notes that Perry played against numerous defenders that are either already in the NFL or will be during his collegiate career. Whether operating from the quarterback or slotback position, the Tennessee native has made many elite defenders look silly with his jaw-dropping moves and breakaway speed.
"I'd be very surprised if Malcolm didn't get drafted. Where he goes, I have no idea," Niumatalolo said. "I think Malcolm has proven himself against top caliber competition. The scouts have seen his body of work. From what I've heard, a lot of teams like Malcolm."
Jason Bernstein, an agent with Clarity Sports International, is representing Perry and not surprisingly sides with Niumatalolo on the subject. Bernstein, who represents such NFL players as Jason Kelce (Philadelphia Eagles), Alejandro Villanueva (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Trace McSorley (Baltimore Ravens), based his opinion on the feedback from NFL executives.
"I'm very confident Malcolm will be drafted based on interest from all the teams reaching out," said Bernstein, who is based in Potomac. "Almost every club I've spoken with sees Malcolm in a variety of roles, which helps chances of getting drafted and make a roster. Teams love his versatility."
Bernstein has spoken to NFL general managers who envision employing Perry in a similar fashion as Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints.
"Malcolm can be sort of a secret weapon you can line up at running back or slot receiver. You can have him taking direct snaps in wildcat formation or returning punts," Bernstein said. "Malcolm is certainly willing and enthusiastic about doing all that. He put all those types of skills on tape while at Navy."
Perry posted a sub-par 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, clocking in at 4.65 seconds. It was among the lowest of all receivers in attendance. However, Perry ranked among the top of the receiver contingent in both the three-cone drills (7.12 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.31 seconds). His vertical leap (36 inches) and broad jump (122 inches) put him in the middle of the receiver pack.
"Malcolm is a unique and special player. There is not anyone in the country with that type of quickness and make-you-miss ability," Bernstein said.
Tape doesn't lie
Bernstein disputes the unofficial 40-yard time published by the NFL.com, claiming scouts on hand had Perry in the low to mid 4.5 range. Perry was part of the third group of wide receivers that did not start working out until 9 p.m. and finished around midnight. Bernstein said "tape is the determining factor" for Perry.
"Some players just have game speed," he said, "and no one ever caught Malcolm from behind while he was at Navy."
Despite waiting 12 hours to perform, Perry was extremely impressive during route-running and catching drills. Extending both arms away from his body and showing soft hands, Perry caught every pass thrown.
Perry is presently back home in Clarksville, Tennessee as the Naval Academy has gone to remote instruction. Online classes start at 8:30 each morning with professors using Zoom video conferencing system to teach and email for assignments.
"It's definitely a lot harder than just going to class but I'm started to get into a routine," said Perry, a quantitative economics major.
Perry has a friend that owns a martial arts gymnasium and allows him to lift weights there. Tennessee State quarterback Heath Williams is also a Clarksville resident and has been willing to throw passes to Perry.
Personally, Perry was disappointed with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine and had been working with his personal trainer to improve upon it during the Navy Pro Day.
"I wanted to get out there and run the 40 again, for sure. I know I can put a better number out there," he said.
Perry believes he has proven to NFL scouts he can catch the football and readily admits he needs to get better at running routes.
"To be honest, catching punts was the biggest thing for a lot of coaches. I think special teams is going to be important for me," he said.
Perry has been interviewed by general managers, head coaches and position coaches from numerous NFL teams over the last month or so. Some turn on the slotback tape from Navy and envision Perry as a third-down back. Others compare Perry favorably to Julian Edelman, a quarterback at Kent State who became a prolific slot receiver with the New England Patriots.
Most analysts see Perry being drafted on Saturday in rounds four through seven. He is planning to watch the NFL Draft at home with his parents Malcolm and Bonny and other family and friends.
"I'm not sure what will happen and I'm not expecting anything," Perry said. "Hopefully, I'll get a chance to hear my name called."
Perry will be commissioned as a Marine Corps Ground officer and would eventually report to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia if he does not make an NFL roster. For now, he is slated to serve on temporary assignment duty at the Naval Academy during the fall semester.
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