With San Diego's season mercifully coming to an end, it has become clear that only one member of the disappointing 2015 draft class has had much of a positive impact -- ILB Denzel Perryman.
Unseating the disappointing Donald Butler in the second half of the season, Perryman has revitalized a flailing defense, becoming one of the few players on the roster whose stock is trending upward.
Against the Raiders on Christmas Eve, Perryman lead the team with 11 total tackles, showing the same physicality and sure tackling that the Miami product has displayed all season. While the Raiders had success blocking him at times, Perryman did a solid job shedding blocks, something the rest of the team's linebackers have struggled with.
Midway through the second half, OG Gabe Jackson ran unblocked to the second level to attempt to block Perryman, who did a good job using his hands to escape the block and tackle RB Latavius Murray for a 4-yard gain. Later, in the fourth quarter, Perryman was effectively blocked downfield by OG Jon Feliciano on a running play. However, as Murray approached him, Perryman turned away from Feliciano and made the tackle, limiting Murray to 8 yards.
Perryman, while not used often as a pass rusher, did a great job creating pressure when his number was called. On Oakland's first touchdown drive, Perryman was not fooled by the play-action fake and exploded through a huge hole in the offensive line, showing exceptional speed and tenacity in taking down QB Derek Carr for a 9-yard loss.
Perhaps the most impressive aspects of Perryman's game Thursday, especially considering his inexperience, were his patience and vision. On the Raiders' very first offensive play --a handoff to Murray for 3 yards -- Perryman waited in the middle for the play to develop. Once he diagnosed the run, he blazed into the middle of the defense. He didn't get to the ball-carrier but still looked good reading the play and reacting appropriately.
While Perryman was impressive shedding blocks and diagnosing plays against the run, his pass coverage leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, on Oakland's second possession, Perryman dropped back into a zone but was late recognizing TE Lee Smith coming free across the middle, allowing an easy 17-yard reception. Perryman looked good chasing down Lee and slamming him to the turf, but the tight end should not have been so wide open in the first place.
Again, with 10:17 left in the first half, Perryman did a poor job covering WR Andre Holmes, allowing an easy reception. Perryman then slipped trying to bring the receiver down, allowing Holmes to gain 10 yards and a first down before being brought down by fellow rookie Craig Mager. Perhaps it is too much to ask a rookie linebacker to cover wideouts, but this is still a consistent weakness in Perryman's game that needs to be improved upon if Perryman is going to be a three-down linebacker.
Also, Perryman reminded us all that despite his potential, he is still a rookie learning his craft -- a rookie capable of committing a huge mistake with the game on the line.
With the Oakland offense backed up at its own 20 on an insurmountable second-and-29 in overtime, Perryman put a devastating hit on receiver Michael Crabtree after a relatively harmless 8-yard reception. However, Perryman led with his helmet and was flagged for a personal foul for hitting a defenseless receiver, giving the Raiders 15 yards and a new set of downs. Oakland went on to score a field goal that would ultimately win the game.
Perryman's aggression is one of his best attributes, but leading with his helmet on what should have been a routine tackle was an egregious error that may have cost the Chargers the game.
Growing pains are a part of every rookie's development and Perryman certainly had some against the Raiders. Fortunately for the Chargers, Perryman's presence in the middle of the defense is already worth far more than any mistakes made in a meaningless game.
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A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter @TrentNotDilfer