It's no secret Breshad Perriman needs to make a splash. A chance came his way early in last Saturday night's game against the Miami Dolphins.
The Ravens had driven into Miami territory on the game's first possession. Rather than try to move the chains on a third-and-3 play at the 33, Robert Griffin III sent Perriman deep along the right sideline and threw for him.
Perriman wasn't wide open, but the pass sailed high and out of bounds anyway, denying him a shot at making a big catch that could have improved his chances of making the 53-man roster.
In a way, the play summed up Perriman's entire experience with the Ravens since they made him their first-round draft pick in 2015.
There was some promise but things … just … haven't worked out yet.
Perriman, 24, has dealt with one issue after another in his first three NFL seasons. Major injuries. Personal crises. Bad luck. How many times have balls that slipped through his hands been intercepted, intensifying the focus on his miscue?
The simple bottom line, though, is Perriman hasn't lived up to what the team, fans or Perriman himself surely expected from a first-round draft pick. He has played in 27 games for the Ravens, been targeted 100 times – enough of an opportunity to establish himself as a productive player. But he hasn't, and that's on Perriman.
Now he finds himself in a tight roster crunch heading into Thursday night's preseason finale against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium. It appears he is competing with Tim White and rookies Janarion Grant and Jordan Lasley for the No. 5 and No. 6 wide receiver jobs. There's a chance the game could be Perriman's last with the Ravens.
My best guess is White or Grant will make the roster as the return specialist, leaving the last spot for Perriman or Lasley. Perriman is the more polished receiver of the two at this point and has practiced well recently. If the Ravens suddenly needed their No. 6 receiver to contribute, they'd likely get more from Perriman than any of the other candidates. Through four preseason games, he is tied for team lead in catches and leads in receiving yards. He's a veteran, unbowed by facing starting-caliber talent on an NFL field.
But the situation isn't nearly as simple as it looks. Several factors are working against Perriman's roster prospects.
I don't think the Ravens want to lose Lasley, a fifth-round pick viewed by many scouts as a first-round-caliber talent who slipped due to off-field issues. Another team might claim him off waivers if the Ravens cut him with the idea of quickly reclaiming him and putting him on their developmental squad.
Also, the Nos. 5 and 6 wide receivers usually contribute on special teams, sometimes in a major way, and Perriman has never played on special teams. That hurts his chances, no question, with the No. 6 receiver, whoever it is, unlikely to see much action behind Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore. Lasley, meanwhile, has exhibited promise on special teams.
Among the Ravens' many roster decisions, Perriman's fate is among the thorniest. They have given him every opportunity to succeed, even picking up a sizable roster bonus at the start of training camp this year despite knowing he was a bubble player.
Now it's time to make the call: Have they seen enough or do they still believe Perriman could develop into a useful receiver? Could they trade him? (It's a likelier notion than you might think.)
With his size and speed, he certainly looks the part of an NFL receiver. His work ethic and practice habits are just what a team wants. But despite his speed, he has struggled to gain consistent separation from defenders. When he has been targeted, he has often been forced to try to make difficult circus catches. Some balls, like the one Saturday night, have sailed away from him. Several key drops have made headlines.
Things just haven't worked out here yet, and while Perriman is a fine young man who deserves a better fate, it's hard not to wonder whether that will ever change.