Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, defensive advantage was not an obvious concern for the New England Patriots. They brought in Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy as unrestricted free agents and invested Day 2 caps in Chase Winovich and Josh Uche over the previous two years.
When a good player falls into Bill Belichick’s lap, however, he doesn’t refuse to take it just because of the assumed positional depth. This year that player was Ronnie Perkins of Oklahoma.
After picking quarterback Mac Jones and defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the first two rounds, meeting two of the list’s biggest needs, the Patriots let the table come to them at No.96. Perkins was the best player available at this point. for the organization, and he ended up choosing it to further strengthen the edge.
“Honestly, it’s surreal,” Perkins said shortly after being drafted by New England. “My mind can’t even get around it. Just having the opportunity to be coached by Coach Belichick is the most mind-blowing thing in my head right now. Honestly, I’m so excited tonight. I just can’t wait to get in and learn from Coach Belichick, Young Coach Belichick, as I’m just excited for this opportunity. I can not wait.
The young coach Belichick Perkins was talking about is Patriots linebacker coach Steve Belichick. The most experienced member of the team’s defensive coaching staff, and the next man in the unit behind his father, was also the one who got to know Perkins during the pre-draft process.
As the 21-year-old defender pointed out, the experience has been intense for him.
“I’ve spoken to the Patriots, I wouldn’t say often, but I’ve spoken to them a few times. I would definitely say that by stepping away from the interviews I had with them, I felt confident that I had done a great job talking to them. Really all of this, like I said, I was blown away. I wasn’t talking to Coach Bill Belichick but I was talking to Coach Steve Belichick and I was really blown away talking to someone who is part of the Belichick family, ”he said.
“You mention that name, he’s just one of the most legendary head coaches in the NFL. Just talking to his son who will probably be like him in a few years – definitely talking to him was a huge blessing and I was super excited. Now I’m super excited to play for these two guys.
While Steve Belichick was his main point of contact with the organization, Perkins is no stranger to the team and its history. In fact, as he pointed out, he’s actually trying to incorporate some elements of other Patriots players into his own game.
The first two he mentioned are natural adjustments given his position, but the third player was certainly a nice addition.
“I’ll say Willie McGinest, Dont’a Hightower. I would also say probably… Gilmore, Stephon Gilmore. Just because Stephon Gilmore is a silent assassin. I would definitely say so because he’s a silent assassin, he lets his game do the talking.
Over the past three years in Oklahoma, Perkins has also done just that: he let his room do the talking. He had a pretty strong voice along the way and recorded 16.5 sacks and 32 tackles for a loss in 33 career games as an Early. Even though he missed six games with a suspension after failing a second-year drug test, he was on several occasions his team’s top defenseman and an impact player against the pass and the race.
Despite his intention to follow Gilmore’s lead and also become a ‘silent assassin’, Perkins also established himself as a vocal locker room manager during his time at Norman – which was also confirmed by the defensive coordinator of the ‘Oklahoma Alex Grinch.
“To say he’s a leader in our program, yes he is,” Grinch told OU Insider last September. “He’s a leader on this defense. I need him. Our defense needs him, and [we’re] glad he’s part of us.
So what can the Patriots and their fans expect from him?
“They will have a great guy,” he says. “In the long run, I know Patriots fans will love me. Just looking at the former Patriots defensemen, I know they are going to love me and the way I play. As a person, they have a guy who loves to interact with the community, who loves to interact with the fans, so they will definitely see me in New England a lot.
“I can’t wait to go out there and get there and have it all, like, man, I’m really a Patriot now. I can not wait.