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In right role, Paul Perkins could be a fantasy sleeper

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Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, each day NFL Fantasy will profile a prospect who could make a splash in fantasy next season. Today's subject is former UCLA running back Paul Perkins.

The age-old expression "You can't fit a square peg into a round hole," typically applies to draft prospects as well. However, when Paul Perkins (for all intents and purposes a change-of-pace back) was asked to fit into a a different role as the featured back for the UCLA Bruins, he responded with aplomb. Perkins handled 260-plus touches in each of the last two seasons, amassing a grand total of 3,358 total yards and 26 total touchdowns. Making the jump to the NFL, it's unlikely Perkins will be asked to fit into a role outside what he's built for, as his frame (5-10, 208 pounds) doesn't exactly scream "workhorse" back. But will a specialized role limit Perkins' potential, or allow him to thrive? Let's dive into the tape and find out.

Full 2016 "Prospect a Day" list

Perkins' NFL.com draft profile

Strengths

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:


     » Excellent feet and balance with good visiion
     » Elusive in the open field and tight spaces
     » Natural pass-catcher
     » NFL bloodlines (father and uncle played in the NFL)

When pulling up Perkins' tape, the first thing that pops off the screen are his exceptionally quick feet and elusiveness. Perkins has "phone booth" agility in that he can make defenders miss in the tightest of spaces. Pairing his shiftiness with plus balance allows Perkins to simply glide through the defense at times, making his perfectly timed cuts look easy. Perkins also demonstrates a keen understanding of when and where to set up his cuts at the second level, allowing for plenty of extra yards to be picked up on his big carries.

Perkins has natural hands and looks smooth as a pass-catcher, whether catching a screen or hauling in a pass over his shoulder on a wheel route downfield. Combining his savvy in the open field with his pass-catching ability seems the best way to go for Perkins in the NFL. He could enter the league as an immediate fantasy contributor on third downs given how dangerous he is in space.

Also working in his favor are NFL bloodlines, something teams and scouts don't overlook. Both Perkins' father and uncle played in the NFL (two and eight years, respectively), so the athletic pedigree is there for Perkins to have a solid professional career.

Weaknesses


     » Small-ish frame for the NFL
     » Lacks power and explosion in lower body
     » Average top-end speed
     » When defenders do hit him, he's brought down on first contact a lot.

While he filled the bell cow role in college, Perkins doesn't have the size to continue that into the NFL. Even though he didn't miss a game in college, his body would take a lot more punishment with 260-plus touches a year in the NFL. Moreover, Perkins lacks the lower body power and explosion typically requisite of a featured back. He struggled to push the pile and break tackles in the Pac-12, which isn't a good sign that he'll be able to do that against NFL-level competition. That, combined with his natural elusiveness seems to have Perkins pegged for a specialized, pass-catching role in the NFL level, which is fine.

While Perkins is quick in tight quarters and space, he has just average top-end speed and acceleration, limiting his home-run capabilities. And lastly, as mentioned above, Perkins struggled to break free from tacklers he hadn't already juked, and often times seemed to get hung up or brought down on arm tackles in traffic. He has good balance, but needs to find a way to improve his fight through the hole to avoid being brought down by arm tackles as often in the NFL.

Ideal NFL fantasy fits


     » Green Bay Packers
     » Oakland Raiders
     » New England Patriots
     » Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay should be getting a rejuvenated Eddie Lacy in 2016, but has been missing a shifty, dynamic pass-catching specialist for years. Giving Aaron Rodgers that type of weapon would almost be unfair. Oakland struggled to find a reliable receiving back last season, feeding most of the targets to the fullbacks and Latavius Murray. Perkins could have an instant real life and fantasy impact in the Bay Area working alongside that talented young offense. New England hoards pass-catching backs like a squirrel hoards food for the winter, so Perkins to the Patriots just makes too much sense. While the Cowboys re-signed receiving-back specialist Lance Dunbar, he could need more time to truly recover from his knee injury last season, leaving plenty of opportunities for Perkins to slide in and take over that role.

Early fantasy draft projection

Where Perkins a bit bigger and faster, he'd be in the discusison as one of the top rookie running backs to target in the first round of rookie dynasty drafts. However, with Perkins seemingly slotted for a specialized role in the NFL, his fantasy stock takes a bit of a hit. He's a good option in the second or third round of dynasty rookie drafts, and will be a great late-round flier in PPR redraft leagues this fall. Standard league players could certainly look to roster Perkins as a fourth or fifth option if he lands in the right situation, too.

Why wait? CLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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