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F10Y CFB Player to Watch; AT Perry, Wake Forest

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Welcome back to our weekly Player to Watch space here at Full 10 Yards, this week I am digging into one of the more exciting wide receivers in college football, AT Perry of Wake Forest.

However, before moving on to discuss Perry, I would like to address that with Blake Corum’s 133 yards and a touchdown against Iowa last week, it’s a win for this particular writer as we take one back from the kiss of death that we seem to be putting on the players covered. 

Enough of my small victories, I have a Biletnikoff semi-finalist wide receiver to dig into! 

Let’s kick off in the usual manner; let’s talk about who Perry is…

Atorian “AT” Perry is a 6’5, 205lb receiver out of Lake Worth Florida, coming out of high school he was a three star recruit. Perry was a tri-sport high school athlete, turning out of the school’s basketball and track teams, even winning the county long jump championship, alongside his ventures for the football programme.

On the football field, Perry was a captain for the Lake Worth Cobras, as a wide receiver and defensive back. He caught touchdowns, he led his team to a 10-0 record in his Junior season and he also has athletic bloodlines from a Mother who ran track at Arizona State. However, the offers from Power-5 schools were not forthcoming.

Lost in the sea of footballing talent that in the state of Florida, Perry wasn’t blessed with offers from big schools. Prior to enrolling at Wake Forest, the only Power-5 offer he had on the table from Iowa State, a world away from Florida and the South as a whole. Perry was originally slated to attend the University of Alabama-Birmingham and be a Blazer, before de-committing and signing on with the Demon Deacons and heading for Winston-Salem.

Now the only thing that is blazing, are his routes and catches.

And with that, let’s head to the film…

In this initial clip, I want to show you a whole host of positives that I see often throughout Perry’s tape.

Let’s go to the Florida State game from 2021, what I want to show you here is that Perry can be a deep threat with good straight line speed, I want to show you great ball tracking ability and also a little bit of a nuanced release off the line of scrimmage.

From the beginning of the play then… we can see that the corner guarding him is every aligned ever-so-slightly to the outside, so Perry’s initial step jabs to the outside and the corner widens out to mirror his movement – Just what Perry wanted. This allowed him to gobble up that 2 yard cushion and push downfield, and by the time Sam Hartman is throwing, Perry is two yards beyond his man. All he had to do is ensure that he caught the football and it’s 6 points, and it duly was.

I feel like the corner was expecting help over the top, hence why he didn’t attempt to jam Perry at the line. The safety gained no depth to provide any help over the top, so this is either poor execution or a bad play design, as it allowed Wake Forest’s best receiver easy access to the deep portion of the field and an easy score. 

Next up and sticking with the Florida State game – Another great release but this time we are seeing separation in the intermediate portion of the field.

Again, we see Perry use his feet well and manipulate a defender with his release. He jabs outside to get the defender to open his hips just a touch, as he knows that he wants to get inside to run his dig (or basic) route.

Another super impressive aspect of this play is that he can work through contact throughout his route, leaning into his man and that despite being 6’5, he can sink his hips and make a sharp cut on his route. This cut gives him the separation that he needs to make the catch unchallenged over the middle of the field.

You will also see on the endzone view on the All-22 here that he can make a solid catch with his hands extended away from his body. This is the sort of chain-moving grab over the middle that makes bigger receivers such a comfort blanket for quarterbacks.

Here’s more evidence of his ability to manipulate defenders with his work off the line… This one was against Army last year in the red zone.

The ball doesn’t come his way here but I love the way he creates space inside by chopping his feet and stuttering at the line. The play wasn’t designed to go to him looking at his body language around the time of the throw (I feel he was in place to create a rub for his team mate) but had Perry known the ball was coming his way on a slightly different play, that’s a touchdown in the middle of the endzone.

However, and there’s always a however in these articles, one thing that I have seen a number of through three games (Florida State, Army, Clemson all 2021), is drops.

Concentration drops and not having hands in the proper technique, more often than not over the short and intermediate areas.

This is a money down; 3rd down with the score tied at 21. It’s a first down if he catches it too and you can see the disappointment in his body language as soon as he sees that one go through his hands. In the NFL, a tipped ball like that can be a turnover. Perry has to tighten up this aspect of his game. 

Last clip here and it’s something I would love to see more of from Perry but this one shows that he’s got it in his locker and that run-after-catch ability.

This one from the Clemson game last year. Backup QB, Michael Kern is in the game for Sam Hartman here and because of that I love that Perry runs the curl route here and works his way back to the QB, showing him his number and giving him a big target to throw at.

I’ve talked about releases already, but this is another great example – Guarded by Andrew Booth Jr., now of the Minnesota Vikings, he immediately threatens deep and gets Booth on his heels and into recovery mode. Perry sells his route superbly and it means that he gains separation by using the defender’s momentum against him as he turns back towards the QB to make the catch. 

The safety misses the tackle due to Perry being able to turn quickly inside and now there’s nothing but green grass ahead of him and he takes advantage with a huge gain after the catch. Had it not been for the incredible recovery speed of safety, Andrew Mukuba (#1), Perry would have scored. 

We can see that Perry is Sam Hartman’s best friend on the football field, so how will these two link up this weekend against Army?

First off, now that I have shown you a taster of the film from this kinda-kooky, slow mesh offense, I want to give a shout out to my guy Simon Carroll over at The Touchdown who wrote up a fantastic piece on the Wake Forest slow mesh offense – Which you can read HERE. So if you want to know more about the bigger picture, hop over to that piece once you’re done here. Here is a clip of it working perfectly against Army last year…

Defenders get caught with their eyes in the backfield waiting to see which way the mesh goes and it’s a game of who blinks first. All the while, receivers like Perry are tearing down the field past DBs and calling for the deep shots! When it works, it’s fantastic.

Last year, in the game against Army, Perry had 6 catches for 146 yards and a score. So considering that he was gaining over 24 yards a grab last year, it’ll be interesting to see how Army game plans for a player who hurt them so much last year.

I feel like Army has two defenses – Either allow Andre Carter to absolutely tee off on every snap from his EDGE position and pray that he sacks Sam Hartman enough times to slow the play down. Or double cover Perry with safety help over the top at all times with the corner who’s guarding Perry playing a tight trail technique behind to dare Hartman to hit the tough throw, or beat them by using the other receivers almost exclusively.

If not, due to the talent differential, I’d expect Perry to carve up the Golden Knight’s defense once again. 

Can we expect to see Perry playing on Sundays?

I would be shocked if we didn’t see Perry drafted within the first couple of rounds of the NFL Draft.

I think he possesses a typical X-receiver’s frame, with his height and speed to make catches that is not too dissimilar to someone like Mike Williams, although the evidence of spectacular body control isn’t on film and is what makes someone like Williams special. He can run routes off the vertical stem and at 6’5, he’s always going to be someone who will be a threat in the red zone with jump balls and ability to box out smaller defenders.

Perry is a player who teams value because the height and speed combination that he possesses are unteachable gifts. He can access the deep portion of the field and create space for his team mates underneath. We’ve seen in the clips above that every team he faces respects the fact that he can run by them and score from anywhere, and that isn’t going to change in the NFL.

One prominent podcaster and scout had him as WR1 in summer scouting.

So to conclude…

Perry is a big-bodied X receiver with the skillset that NFL teams crave, however, he has to clean up his technique and I would also love to see him diversify his route tree as well.

Perry only works vertically, which whilst that plays to his strengths, it limits his effectiveness and can mean that he’s taken out of the game with bracket coverages.

I feel like there’s enough agility to work in some double moves and enough physicality to give him some slants over the middle – With a 6’5 body and long arms, there’s no corner in the league with the length to stop him cashing in on easy money in the short areas, if he can smarten up his hands in clutch moments.

I feel like Perry has all the ingredients to be a player who can be successful in the NFL from day one. He has a good understanding of releases, and manipulating defenders, but he’s not a master of these things. He can be successful immediately by doing the things he does now, but he has a ceiling when he masters certain skills. I feel that he absolutely could be moulded into a more rounded receiver who can be effective at all three levels and in the red zone. 

He’ll continue to hone his craft and be super productive for Wake Forest and continue to forge his path to the NFL and he’s not only a player to watch this week but also for the rest of the year.  

By Lee Wakefield – Follow Lee on Twitter @wakefield90

Read the rest of the Player to Watch articles here.