More often than not, when a free-agent skill player is signed in the middle of the season, they tend to not make too big of an impact. There are some outliers, but for the most part, the player is just a fill-in that is signed due to an injury or just to take up a roster spot for a week or two.
That’s what Cleveland Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman was supposed to be. When Derrick Willies was placed on injured reserve after breaking his collarbone during practice the second week of October, the Browns were in dire need of a wide receiver. In stepped the former first-round pick with not only something to prove but with a big opportunity in front of him as well.
When the Baltimore Ravens selected Perriman with the 26th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, he was supposed to be a deep-ball threat for the Browns’ division rival. It’s exactly what he was during his time at UCF and after running a 4.24 40-yard dash at the Combine, many thought he could do so at the professional level as well. One scout even clocked him at 4.19 seconds during his Pro Day. His speed combined with his 6-foot-2, 211-pound frame is what excited NFL teams, especially the Ravens.
During his first season in Baltimore in 2016, Perriman totaled 33 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games (one start). Hampered by a knee injury paired with dropping too many passes as a rookie, the receiver never fully recovered on the football field, at least in Baltimore. He had just 10 receptions (35 targets) for 77 yards in 11 games (three starts) in 2017 before he was cut when the Ravens had to trim their roster to 53 players prior to this season.
Then the Browns gave him a chance, and Perriman has taken advantage of it, to say the least. When he spoke to the media for the first time after signing with Cleveland, he made it known that he has a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove.
“Definitely. I always feel like I have something to prove, no matter how good I am doing or how bad things have been for me,” he said. “To answer your question, yes. I have an extra chip on my shoulder and really am just ready to go to work.”
Perriman has done just that and then some.
The wideout had just two catches during the Browns win over the Panthers last Sunday, but both of them were important. The first came on a 66-yard reception on the Browns’ first play of the game. It not only put Cleveland inside the red zone but gave the offense plenty of confidence as well.
Baker Mayfield's 66-yard pass to Breshad Perriman on the rookie’s first play of the game is now the deepest completion of the season by air yards (54.7) and second-longest by air distance (63.8), according to @NextGenStats. pic.twitter.com/IrfrxP0TSI
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) December 10, 2018
“For the most part, I’m just tracking it, looking it all the way in. I don’t know how I didn’t score, honestly. I don’t know if I tripped or they hit me,” Perriman said of making the catch, per The Athletic’s Zac Jackson. “I was kind of mad at myself for that for falling. At the end of the day, I made the play. I have to catch it. We want six points out of that, but at the same time I’m grateful I made the play.”
He won the battle on the outside and Mayfield not only recognized it but had trust that he would do just that. For a guy that didn’t even have a job three months ago, that’s quite a feat.
“It is awesome. That play puts that safety in a bind. We are trusting (TE) David (Njoku) to have speed across the field. If that safety did not attach to him like he did, then we are putting the post up to Breshad,” the rookie said. “It is just playing the numbers game. We are trusting Breshad on the outside to win, and he absolutely did.”
Perriman’s second (and last) reception of the game essentially clinched the win over Carolina. Backed up deep in their own territory, offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens trusted his rookie quarterback enough to throw the ball on second-and-11 on the two-yard line. After going through his progressions, Baker Mayfield found Perriman for a 15-yard reception and a first down. While Kitchens had plenty of trust in Mayfield to not make a mistake, the gunslinger had faith in his wideout that he would make the play as well.
Browns have to move the ball to keep it out of Carolina's hands. Backed up against their own GL Kitchens allows his rookie QB to throw it – so much trust. Mayfield works the roll fake, and works to his 4th option Perriman on the crosser. An absolute seed delivered. #BrownsFilmBDN pic.twitter.com/rv5C22Y1nC
— BrownsFilmBreakdown (@BrownsFilmBDN) December 10, 2018
A veteran in the wide receivers group, Jarvis Landry wasn’t shy when it came to talking about the offense. He singled out that second-and-11 play as well following the game, complimenting both his rookie quarterback and receiver.
“Just trust. If I am not mistaken, I think that we were second-and-11 backed up, we ran the play-action boot, he rolls out to the right side and finds (WR) Breshad (Perriman) on the sideline,” Landry said. “Hell of a catch, as well. We get a first down there and we set ourselves up for another first down to be able to win the game right there. Everybody stepped up today.
“I am happy that we have [Perriman]. Since he has gotten here, he has been making plays for us – the first play of the game, the big second down that we just talked about,” he said. “He is making those plays, and he has consistently done it. We are going to need guys like him to build this thing to get it to where we want to go.”
His season-high 81 receiving yards on Sunday led the team. He’s now up to 10 catches (15 targets) for 188 yards in seven games with the Browns this season. Since Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were both fired following the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, the Browns’ offense has looked completely different. It was a much-needed change and Kitchens has taken advantage of the opportunity to have the keys and play-calling duties for the offense. Mayfield has flourished in the five games since then and part of the reason for that is because of Perriman. While the offense has opened up, whether it be the rookie slinging the ball all over the field, Nick Chubb running all over the field, or the number of different receivers making plays, Perriman is one of the players who has taken advantage of the increased opportunities.
In fact, he’s one of the Browns’ top receivers in the five weeks since Kitchens was named the interim offensive coordinator. Receiving stats from the past five games:
Granted it’s quite a small sample size, but Perriman was just supposed to be a stop-gap receiver for the Browns. He not only has done much more than that but given his play and numbers over the last five games in Cleveland’s new-look offense, there’s a possibility that he could sign with the Browns for next season (and beyond) during the offseason. Although he will be an unrestricted free agent, the wide receiver would love to stay in Cleveland.
“I hope I (have a future here), but I honestly haven’t been thinking about that,” he said. “I’m blessed to have been focused on getting these wins here and not thinking about anything else. But I love the team here. I love my teammates. I love the chemistry. There’s a different vibe and energy here. I love it.”
The Dawg Pound has gotten an up-close look at their quarterback while some teams and fans around the league have not only been impressed with the rookie, but have been surprised at how much he has already flourished at the highest level. For Perriman, he knew the type of quarterback his guy was from the moment he was signed in the middle of the season.
“He is a baller. That is the biggest thing is he is a baller,” Perriman said of Mayfield. “He has a lot of confidence and a lot of swag. From what I can see, everything is right.
“In my eyes, Baker can be the GOAT (greatest of all time),” he continued. “For a rookie to be out here balling the way he is, it’s crazy. He just has to keep getting better week after week, and he is. I just think if he keeps improving there’s no telling how good he can be. He’s playing with so much confidence.”
When he joined the Browns, the receiver admitted that it could be a great chapter in his playing career and quite a blessing.
“It could be a great chapter of my story,” he said of Cleveland signing him and giving him a chance. “I am really excited to be here. I am excited to get things rolling. I know that it could be a huge blessing for me, and I know that it will be.”
So far, it has been both for both him and the Browns.
If things continue down the path that they are currently on, including Perriman and Mayfield having successfully chemistry and the wideout continuing to make plays downfield, Perriman has a good argument to remain a Brown beyond just this season. When he’s catching passes deep downfield, Perriman is stretching the field, allowing others to have more space and get open. Mayfield as taken notice.
“He stretches the field. He has elite speed to be able to get past the corners and stretch the safeties. It has been great for us to be able to have that great deep option to where people have to be on notice,’ Mayfield said. “They have to cover it deep. If they cover him up, then we take out shots underneath. If not, we are letting it go to him.”
While Mayfield continues to compliment Perriman, Kitchens hasn’t held back either. The play-caller likes having a guy like Perriman simply because it allows an offense to have more space all over the field.
“A guy with that kind of size and that kind of speed, of course, has an impact when he has the ball in his hands,” Kitchens said. “There was a play that went for like a two-yard gain earlier in the year when we handed a speed sweep to him. He was not afraid. He took on the tacklers on the edge. It ended up being a 2-yard play, but when he had the ball in his hands, he brought it.
“I like physical, big guys like that that can play and that seem to enjoy playing the game. It is all about playing the game with those guys. When you have a guy that loves the game of football, of course, that is an advantage.”
“Striking gold” doesn’t mean that he is a star, but considering the circumstances that he was faced with early in the season and getting signed by the Browns simply due to another player’s unfortunate season-ending injury, being a solid skill player Cleveland can count on is essentially striking gold. Perriman just has to continue to make plays and gain trust from both Kitchens and Mayfield. Everything else will work itself out from there.