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Draft Darlings: A.T. Perry could soon be the Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver

This draft prospect has all the attributes to be one of the league’s top wide receivers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 North Carolina at Wake Forest Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Many Kansas City Chiefs fans have been worried about the team's wide receiver group this offseason. Now that JuJu Smith-Schuster is with the New England Patriots and Mecole Hardman is now a member of the New York Jets, many Chiefs Kingdom citizens are afraid that quarterback Patrick Mahomes won't have enough weapons for a title chase in 2023.

While the Chiefs have been rumored to have interest in free-agent wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and Arizona Cardinals star DeAndre Hopkins, it now seems unlikely that either will end up in Kansas City.

Could the Chiefs consider getting one (or more) wide receivers in the draft? The problem is that rookie wideouts usually struggle to find their footing in head coach Andy Reid's complex offense. Second-year player Skyy Moore recently admitted on his YouTube channel that it took him until Week 8 of his rookie year before he felt comfortable with the playbook.

Still, it's not entirely unknown for a rookie wideout to become an immediate contributor in one of Reid's offenses. While Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson both gained over 700 yards in their first seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, both were very pro-ready — so we should probably consider them to be exceptions.

Are there any pro-ready exceptions in the 2023 NFL Draft? One of them might be Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry.

Background

Perry was a three-star recruit from Park Vista Community High School in Lake Worth, Florida. Wake Forest was the only Power 5 school to extend him an offer. He initially committed to the University of Alabama-Birmingham but ultimately signed with the Demon Deacons instead.

He's been extremely productive over the last two seasons, accumulating 152 receptions for 2,389 yards and 26 touchdowns, averaging 15.7 yards per reception.

Coming into the NFL Combine at 6’3 1/2” and 198 lbs., Perry ran a 4.47 40-yard dash with an 11-foot-1 broad jump. But he only posted a 35-inch vertical jump — which may account for his low 45% contested-catch rate at Wake Forest in 2022. (For comparison's sake, JaMarr Chase caught 54.4% for LSU in 2019).

Perry is also a smart player who has spoken in interviews about working daily on his route-running and catch radius. He understands the importance of muscle flexibility — and preparing his body for the stress of the longer NFL season.

Film evaluation

Wake Forest's slow mesh often proves aggravating for defenders — because without instantaneous quarterback pressure, defenders must choose between dropping into coverage or playing the run. Only then does the quarterback decide whether to hand off or pass the ball.

This is exactly what we see on this play. Perry does a good job of shading toward the sideline. He waits until the cornerback flips his hips before cutting back toward the post, gaining inside leverage. And since the safety has been frozen by the threat of a run, there is no deep help, resulting in an easy pitch-and-catch for a big gain.

Later in the game, Perry runs an almost-identical route — except that it comes from a more spread-out formation. It's another significant gain — this time for a touchdown.

On this rep, Wake Forest isn't operating out of the slow mesh. Perry runs a simple curl route — but he is savvy enough to make sure he gets behind the defensive end (who is dropping into coverage) while making sure he finds the zone's soft pocket in front of the WILL linebacker. He shows good instincts to get upfield and get the first down.

How he fits with the Chiefs

My colleague Nate Christensen recently noted, "At his worst, Perry is Marquez Valdes-Scantling — with better route-running." That makes him a definite fit (and value) for Kansas City. Beyond that comparison, Perry has the potential to be a true X-receiver who can win one-on-one on the outside. He could be an additional big-body option who would draw attention away from tight end Travis Kelce — just as Smith-Schuster did in 2022.

The bottom line

Perry is a technician and intellectual student of the game. If his floor is Valdes-Scantling, then his ceiling is a player like A.J. Green, who had very similar measurements and combine numbers. That's enough for Perry to merit a Day 2 pick. He might not be there at Pick 63 — but if he is, the Chiefs should sprint to the podium.

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