I don’t know if I take enough time to appreciate the journey that most NFL hopefuls go through before they realize one dream (signing with a pro team) and come to terms with a nightmare (when the league declares you “finished,” which for most players is all too soon for their expectations). Consider quarterback Bryce Perkins, who would have to go back six years to find the time that he committed to play at Arizona State as the 20th-ranked dual threat QB recruit in the nation.
Now in 2020, after two transfers, a broken neck, and an unusual pre-draft process that eventually resulted in 32 teams passing on Perkins over and over again — as happens with most hopefuls waiting to hear their name called — he is a member of the LA Rams. For now.
Hopkins and fellow undrafted free agent signee Josh Love are the only quarterbacks on the roster besides starter Jared Goff and John Wolford, himself a UDFA two years ago and now potentially facing that NFL nightmare as two slightly younger dreamers look to end his run on the Rams.
Who are these two new guys?
Perkins was a three-star recruit out of Chandler, AZ who chose to play for Todd Graham at Arizona State at a time when the Sun Devils were looking like one of the fastest rising programs in the Pac-12. ASU went 10-4 the year before Perkins commitment and 10-3 in 2014, finishing 12th in the AP Poll. But Graham’s team fell to 6-7 during Perkins’ true freshman redshirt season, then during a fall practice in 2016, the young QB broke two vertebra in his neck, ending that year for him immediately.
Perkins chose to try and let the broken neck heal, rather than face surgery that could end his football career.
“I always was going to go with whichever one gave me the best shot of giving me a fighting shot to play,” Perkins said at the time.
When Perkins was healed and ready to play again, ASU had a starting QB in Manny Wilkins, plus Blake Barnett, who had transferred from Alabama and was the number-two ranked pro style QB in the 2015 class. Coaches were asking Perkins if he’d switch positions and instead he switched schools, transferring to local Arizona Western Community College, where he wouldn’t have to sit a year, and he helped lead them to the JuCo National Championship Game during his lone season. It wasn’t one of those dominant QB seasons (1,311 passing yards, 353 rushing yards) but they were winning and he was able to transfer back to Division-I, landing at Virginia.
By then, Perkins had embraced a “dual threat” label that he had tried to shake off as a high school recruit, and that fit in with what Virginia was trying to do. From an interview with Perkins two years ago:
“The ability to show my athleticism and my arm is important to me, because I’ve progressed in both areas,” Perkins said. “Throwing with the guys and watching film outside of practice has allowed for repetition of the playbook. From the spring to now has been like night and day, and I plan to build on that from camp to the opening game.”
It was easy for Perkins to go from a JuCo national title game to leading Virginia, if only in the sense that the Hoos had not done much competing at all in the last decade. Their last top-25 ranking at any point came in 2011 (24th for a week) and they hadn’t been top-20 since 2007. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall almost immediately named Perkins the starter for 2018.
After an early season loss to Indiana and then a 14-point loss to NC State three weeks later, Perkins led Virginia to a 16-13 upset over 16th-ranked Miami, a huge moment for the program. But I won’t get it twisted — Perkins threw three first half interceptions and the Hoos defense is what gave them the upset that day.
But it’s not as though Perkins wouldn’t get credit for the team’s overall progress or that he wasn’t creating highlights during his time at Virginia.
Two wins later, Virginia was 5-2 and ranked 23rd in the country, their first top-25 appearance in seven years. That included a win over North Carolina in which Perkins threw for 217 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and rushed for 112 yards and another touchdown; it was Perkins’ third game of the season with 100+ rushing yards. He would also rush for 112 yards one more time that season, against Virginia Tech.
But Virginia lost three of their last four regular season games and wound up in the Belk Bowl vs South Carolina. They won 28-0, with Perkins going 22-of-31 foe 208 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and 81 rushing yards.
He finished his first season as a Division I college starter throwing for 2,680 yards, 25 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 7.7 Y/A, and 923 rushing yards with nine touchdowns. He was a clear upgrade over the starter he had replaced from the previous season, Kurt Benkert.
Perkins now came in with a head of steam for the 2018 season.
Virginia started 2-0 with wins over Pittsburgh and William & Mary, getting ranked 25th as they prepared to face Florida State, led by Perkins’ newest Rams teammate, Cam Akers. Florida State led 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, but Perkins — who did throw two picks that day — helped guide two scoring drives that ended in rushing touchdowns by Wayne Taulapapa. Virginia won and were ranked 21st the following week against Old Dominion.
ODU took an early 17-0 lead, which suddenly seemed unusual vs a Bryce Perkins team, and then he turned it on enough for Virginia to win 28-17.
Virginia was now 4-0 and ranked 18th, their highest ranking in 12 years, hitting the road to face 10th-ranked Notre Dame. The Hoos took a 7-0 lead on a passing touchdown by Perkins, then 17-14 as Perkins threw his second touchdown just :43 seconds before the half. But Notre Dame scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second half and won 35-20. Virginia slipped to 20th and lost to Miami in primetime the following week, 17-9.
But that didn’t completely stop Perkins and Virginia.
They won five of the next six to pull back into the top-25, being ranked 22nd as they faced number three Clemson in the ACC Championship game — their first ever appearance. Let’s cut them a break for however they performed against the most dominant college football program of the last five years (62-17) and say that Perkins was not as awful as he had been a year earlier against Miami. He went 27-of-43 for 266 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and 58 rushing yards.
Virginia would get one more notable opponent, facing Florida in the Orange Bowl (the first non-ranked team in the Orange Bowl in over 40 years) and not doing too badly; UVA tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter on the second touchdown throw by Perkins, then trailed only 27-21 on a third touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. Florida pulled away to win 36-28, but Perkins finished with four touchdowns that day.
He finished his college career 544-of-844, 6,210 yards, 47 TD, 21 INT, 439 carries, 1,692 yards, 20 touchdowns.
What Bryce Perkins was in 2020 as a pre-draft “athlete” will never really be known unfortunately. Despite his intriguing skill set as a 6’3, 215 pound quarterback with over 1,600 rushing yards in two seasons with a historically-awful program and a reported 40-yard dash of 4.55, Perkins was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. When Virginia cancelled its April 8th pro day for obvious reasons, that ended any hope of impressing NFL scouts with his workouts.
But one publication was willing to say he was the most similar QB in the draft to Lamar Jackson “from a size and style perspective”:
Bryce Perkins, Virginia Cavaliers, 6-2, 215, 4.55: From a size and style perspective, Perkins may be the closest comparable to Jackson. Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall recognizes the unique versatility Perkins provides, incorporating plenty of read-option and designed runs for the fleet-footed quarterback, as well as passes to all levels of the field. While talented, Perkins remains quite raw as a passer, too often throwing off his back foot and spraying the ball. The Arizona State transfer flashed as a junior, completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,680 yards and an impressive 25 touchdowns against just eight interceptions but has failed to build upon these numbers in 2019, watching his touchdowns (15) drop along with his yards per attempt. He doesn’t have the same make-you-miss that Jackson possesses - frankly, no one does - but is a decisive runner with smooth acceleration, as his 1,446 rushing yards and 18 scores in just under two seasons for the Cavaliers prove.
It’s hard to find anyone who would criticize Perkins for his size, his athleticism, or his leadership. He was a pretty good college prospect, went to a pretty good program at the time, suffered a major injury, and wound up on the other side with one of the worst division-I college football programs in the country, only to lead them to an ACC Championship game and an appearance in the Orange Bowl two years later. What’s not to like?
Well, none of that will matter at the NFL level if he can’t accurately throw the football with consistency and can’t make quality reads and decisions in the passing game. The rushing aspect could help Perkins mask some of those flaws in the beginning, but a long-term future would likely involve many hours of work with NFL coaches on those issues in the passing game. That’s where the LA Rams will be hoping to help for a potential future involving Perkins, but we can acknowledge that may be a long road.
Standing in his way is not only Jared Goff, John Wolford, and himself (PLOT TWIST!), but another undrafted free agent QB:
(Just going to give Bryce Perkins five bonus points on the spot for not being a QB with a J-name.)
Love was also a member of the 2015 recruiting class, but he was a “pro style QB” and you couldn’t find him anywhere near Perkins on any rankings, even if Perkins wasn’t that high. A 6’2, 188 pound QB out of Long Beach, CA, Rivals lists four schools with interest: San Jose State, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Yale. The recruiting site 247 lists a few schools he did have visits with in 2014, including West Virginia, Oregon State, and BYU, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the high school version of Josh Love was nowhere near consideration to have an NFL future.
Over at 247, they did have a ranking for Love (Rivals had no stars for him, no ranking) and he was 71st. Not in the state of California. Not among all QBs either. He was ranked 71st overall in 2015, in the country, out of all pro style QB recruits. Can you even imagine what it would be like to try and climb over 70 other recruits, and this doesn’t even include dual threat QBs like Bryce Perkins? And you also have to beat out the recruits from 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 ... That’s a lot. But it is possible. Love was the 71st-ranked pro style QB in 2015.
Gardner Minshew was 70th.
In 2015, all signs pointed towards him playing for a small college program below Division-I or walking on and praying at a small college program within Division-I. He chose the latter, heading to San Jose State and opting to compete as a walk-on.
After redshirting his freshman season, Love went from walk-on to getting spot snaps in relief of starter Kenny Potter in 2016, throwing two touchdowns and five interceptions over 60 attempts. He increased his playing time to 170 throws in 2017, now splitting time with Montel Aaron for a 2-11 team. He threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Unlike Perkins, he has no ground game.
By his junior season, Love had become the leading QB and controlled the gig a bit more, going 162-of-289, 1,963 yards, 14 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. But the team had gone 1-11, making new head coach Brent Brennan’s two-year record now stand at 3-22. Thankfully for Love, Brennan, and the rest of the team, improvements and milestones were created last season:
The Long Beach Poly High product is one of just five Spartans since 1938 to start three straight opening games and he played in every game as a freshman in 2016, splitting snaps under center with Kenny Potter. But injuries and inconsistencies — including playing for three different offensive coordinators — limited his effectiveness. Entering this season he had passed for 3,283 yards and had thrown just three more TD passes (24) than interceptions as a Spartan.
But Love blossomed in his second season under offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven and guided the Spartans to a breakthrough season. SJSU went 5-7, a four-win improvement from 2018 that included Love engineering the winning 75-yard touchdown drive at Arkansas to seal San Jose State’s first-ever win over an SEC opponent.
“There was a comfort level with the scheme and building on what we did last year,” Love said. “My confidence level was way up, in the guys and everything, and we just let it rip.”
Love became the third quarterback in conference history to throw for 400 or more yards five games in a season. He finished the season with the sixth-most passing yards in Mountain West history. It’s currently the third-most yards in the nation this season. He also is ranked sixth nationally in total offense at 319.6 yards per game.
Five years after he was a nobody on the recruiting circuit, Love was the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. He went 293-of-481, 3,923 yards, 22 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
As you can probably guess, Love did not get a combine invite and San Jose State’s March 18 pro day was cancelled. He was in contact with teams, and it’s not as though he was going to “wow” people because of his athleticism, but valuable interview time and in-person meetings were lost along the way for a recruit who was once lost along the way.
“Obviously everyone would like to get drafted, but all we really want is a chance to show we belong at that level,” said former San Jose State quarterback Josh Love, who has been in contact with several NFL teams despite not getting to participate in the combine or the Spartans’ pro day. “Whether I’m drafted or undrafted, I’m going to have the same attitude. I’m going to compete.”
He was of course undrafted and he’s going to get a chance to compete. Against Wolford, Perkins, and probably at least one or two other quarterbacks. The truth is that the Rams have four quarterbacks on the roster right now but Goff’s eventual backup may not be on the team right now. They don’t have a single QB competing behind Goff who resembles a player with the same experience as 2019 backup Blake Bortles, which is a point to be made only because you’d expect some consistency there as opposed to necessarily wanting a QB like Bortles.
Sean Mannion was not experienced as a starter, though he was in his third and fourth years when Sean McVay kept him around to backup Goff for 2017-2018. Wolford would carry some experience there, going into his third year in 2020. The team, I’m assuming, will be pecking around free agents when training camp opens or closer to the start of a season.
But we can’t count out Perkins and Love. As unlikely as it would be to see them have long and productive NFL careers, there were many obstacles between them and productive college careers. Perkins had some recruiting going on, but overcame a devastating injury and elevated a struggling program. Love wasn’t recruited by anyone and spent four years earning a job as a starter, eventually lifting his program to more wins in 2019 than they had in 2017-2018 combined and winning major conference awards.
The journey of any NFL dreamer from his teenage years to actually making a pro roster, at any point, for any reason, is a remarkable one and we’ve really struggled to predict which players will end up where and how good they’ll be. These are the stories of two QBs never expected to make it this far and now they’re here. Consider the case of Barnett, a prized recruit of Nick Saban at Alabama and most recently a backup QB at South Florida (he also transferred away from ASU) who could be looking for a sixth year of eligibility.
The road to get to the league is a long one. Perkins and Love are both hoping that now that they’ve made the long trek to the pros, the next journey is even longer.