Ravens fans have a lot of questions about whether wide receiver Breshad Perriman is ready to be a starting, or perhaps No. 1, receiver this season.
What will they be saying a year from now?
"He's the real deal," Perriman said on The Lounge podcast.
Entering his third season, Perriman is in line to have a big role in Baltimore's offense after the retirement of Steve Smith Sr. and departure of Kamar Aiken to Indianapolis in free agency.
Perriman had the third-most targets (66) of any wide receiver on the team last year. He posted 33 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. It was a solid first campaign, but he knows he can do better.
This year, all of those numbers should go up. The Ravens need them to. The 2015 first-round pick (No. 26 overall) will get his chance to show he can live up to his massive potential.
"I can't wait. I've been waiting for this moment all along," Perriman said. "I'm expecting a huge year from me, to be honest with you."
Perriman had a difficult – to put it mildly – start to his career.
A knee injury that, at first, seemed minor knocked him out for his entire rookie season and left fans, the team and Perriman frustrated. Three months after the season ended, his best friend on the team, Tray Walker, died in a motorbike accident. Weeks later, Perriman's father nearly lost his life to a stroke.
Perriman missed time in the offseason program to be with his dad, who has since made a miraculous recovery, but it put the young wide receiver once again behind in his preparation. Perriman also said it was "a daily fight" to stay upbeat when any little thing would remind him of Walker or his father.
Then, at the start of last year's Organized Team Activities, Perriman suffered a partial tear in his other knee. While it didn't end his season, it held him out of training camp. Perriman didn't start practicing last year until the final week of the preseason, and had just one preseason game under his belt before taking the field for Baltimore's regular-season opener.
Perriman wrote down goals at the start of last season. He didn't quite reach them, but did check off one important component. He played in all 16 games.
"That was big," Perriman said. "I felt like all along I could stay healthy. The injuries that happened my rookie year were freak accidents. I never thought of myself as injury-prone. My goal was to stay healthy and it happened, and I want to build on that this year.
"I fell a little short [of my overall goals], but I won't fall short this year."
Perriman said he hasn't written down his individual goals yet for this season. He simply used two words: consistent and accountable.
Head Coach John Harbaugh made the team's needs clear in late March at the NFL owners meetings, saying "He has to be out there making a difference for us. Period. End of story."
To deliver on his big season, he'll have to show growth in the mental and technical part of the game, as well as develop a better connection with his quarterback.
Last year, Perriman and Joe Flacco weren't on the same page at times, which led to a couple interceptions and made it difficult to develop trust and rhythm. A large reason for that is that they simply hadn't practiced much together.
That is already a big difference this year. Flacco and Perriman have been at the Under Armour Performance Center for weeks together since the start of the voluntary strength and conditioning program, and Perriman says he finally feels in sync with his quarterback.
"We've been working every day running routes," Perriman said. "I feel like it's been paying off and we're getting on the same page."
There's also just the personal growth. The off-field difficulties are further in the rearview mirror. Perriman, who admitted he hardly talked to anyone but Walker his rookie year, is coming out of his shell and said he's enjoying joking around with his teammates.
"I'm just more positive," he said. "Whatever I put my mind to and believe, it's going to happen."
Perriman has always had the physical tools. He ran a 4.25 at his Pro Day two years ago, which isn't much slower than the NFL Scouting Combine record of 4.22 posted by the Cincinnati Bengals' John Ross this year. Unlike the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ross, Perriman has the size at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.
Perriman's dad, who played 10 years in the NFL, often reminds his son of his potential, yet is also one of his sharpest critics. The two constantly talk football, and even watched film when Perriman was home in Florida for Mother's Day.
It's the techniques of football – route-running, understanding defenses, catching the ball consistently and more – that make a big difference. Perriman said he feels a lot more comfortable now on the field. There's not as much thinking going on.
"I'm not as tense," Perriman said. "I'm going out there and playing free, playing faster. And catching wise, I feel like my hand-eye coordination has gotten incredibly better.
"I know how much potential I have. I'm just ready to put it all together. It is going to come together."