A year ago this week, while hundreds of prospects performed for scouts and other front office types at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Breshad Perriman was unable to work out because of a hamstring injury.
Talk about an omen.
The Ravens eventually made Perriman their first-round draft pick, but he never played in 2015. He partially tore a knee ligament on the first day of training camp and could not make it back.
As his prolonged absence played out, it became something of a mystery because at times the Ravens seemed to believe he was close to returning. But he finally went on injured reserve shortly before Thanksgiving.
It was a disappointing rookie season, and I read and heard plenty of tough opinions emanating from the public, mainly that Perriman was (pardon the language) a bust or a wimp.
Both characterizations are unfair.
A bust is a player who never performs up to expectations. Perriman hasn't played one down in the NFL.
If he makes it onto the field in 2016 and doesn't contribute at the level the Ravens envisioned, then you can start thinking about the b-word. But even that would be too soon to toss it around; some players take several years to develop.
Labeling Perriman in ANY way before he sets foot on a field is just wrong, wildly premature. He's 22, won't turn 23 until September. Shouldn't everyone just take a deep breath and see where this young man goes from here? I think so.
Sure, when the inability to stay healthy becomes a chronic issue, a high draft pick can become one the team regrets. Dan Cody, the Ravens' 2005 second-round pick, was going to be a high-motor pass rusher, but like Perriman, suffered a knee injury on the first day of his rookie training camp. Actually, his injury was devastating and he wound up playing in just two NFL games.
With Perriman, the Ravens are hoping for a far more fruitful recovery. His injury wasn't nearly as serious as Cody's. At the team's season-ending press conference last month, GM Ozzie Newsome sounded optimistic after recalling watching Perriman make a brilliant downfield catch while injuring himself last July.
"Hopefully, he can pick up from where he was on that first day of training camp. I really had a smile on my face that first day," Newsome said.
That brings us to the second charge often whispered about Perriman last year: that he was "soft" because he couldn't overcome that initial injury and get on the field. Please. As Perriman explained when he met with reporters after going on IR in November, he suffered a partially torn PCL while making that catch in camp, then further tore the same ligament before a game in September.
He. Was. Injured.
If it had been left up to him, he might well have played, even at less than 100 percent; his disappointment was so intense that he admitted he sank into "a dark place." But this is the NFL, not a sandlot pickup league. A player doesn't always get to decide whether he plays. The Ravens' medical staff had to clear Perriman before he could be considered, and clearly, his knee never met the requisite pain and mobility thresholds.
Go ahead and blame him if you want, but it really was just bad luck. Perriman missed one game in three years at Central Florida. His pre-Baltimore career contains no evidence of his being anything other than a gamer.
"This injury does take time to heal. For some people it is quicker, but just for me it's been longer," Perriman said in November.
Anyway, it's all moot now. The 2015 season is over and the Ravens are looking ahead, not back. Newsome said he expects Perriman to be "fully recovered and ready to start this offseason" in the spring. He'll be under scrutiny, understandably, but the Ravens hope he can finally begin to display the talent that made him a first-round pick.
Remember, two months after he was too injured to run at the combine last year, he took the field fully healthy at Central Florida's pro day event and covered 40 yards in 4.25 seconds, a breathtaking time. The Ravens don't have another receiver so fast; few teams do. They're just hoping he flies like that instead of crashes with his second chance to make a first impression.