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A Salute to the 2014 Alabama Seniors: Nick Perry

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Nick Perry is the picture of perseverance, a fifth-year defensive back who stayed around long enough to help the Tide to its third championship run in four seasons.

Nick Perry has hops, y'all...
Nick Perry has hops, y'all...
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Perry is the "Old Man of the Mountain" of the Alabama secondary, a fifth-year senior who has done a little bit of everything for the Tide in the defensive backfield. After a rock-solid 2014 campaign, Perry hopes to see his draft stock rise as he completes his final year at the Capstone with a trip to the College Football Playoffs.

Part of a secondary that has been at least partially blamed for the Tide's pass defense woes over the last two years, the resilient defensive back from Prattville, AL has been nothing but a champion in his time on the gridiron. With a degree in hand, Perry will complete his rise from vaunted home-grown prospect to NFL Draft pick come April 2015.

High School

Perry was a highly coveted defensive back prospect coming out of two-time 6A state champion Prattville, where he was one of the leaders of a resolute Lions squad that dominated the Alabama High School Athletic Association's premier classification in the end of the first decade of the 2000s. A multi-dimensional athlete and excellent student, Perry was recruited heavily by not only state schools Alabama and Auburn, but academic bastions such as Vanderbilt and Stanford.

And rightfully so, as the young defender had thoroughbred credentials coming out of the Lion program. In his senior year of high school, Perry tallied 55 tackles (41 solo), six interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and five passes broken up. As a result, the accolades rolled in. Perry was a SuperPrep All-American and rated as the 17th best safety prospect in the 2010 signing class. He was rated 25th at safety by Rivals, 27th by ESPNU and 29th best defensive back by SuperPrep. He was ranked number eight on the Mobile Press-Register's Elite 18 ranking of the best players in Alabama and was an Alabama Sports Writers' Association All-State player in his senior year.

The early years

Perry arrived on campus in Tuscaloosa during the golden age of Alabama defensive backs, and he was set to become the next in a line of Nick Saban-tutored future defensive back NFL Draft picks. Despite the glut of talent in the secondary, Perry saw the field, though fleetingly. In that first season, he played in only four games and his stat line was rather meager, with only a single tackle and one pass broken up.

In 2011, Perry role began to grow as a back-up defensive back, as he worked at both safety and the nickel position on the second and third strings. He saw slightly more playing time in his sophomore campaign after playing in nine games and recorded two tackles.

Perry, the Upperclassman

It was in 2012 that Perry came into his own and began to see the type of playing time many had expected when he arrived in Tuscaloosa. He played in all 14 games that season for the eventual National Champions, and finally began to accrue the kind of stats one would expect of a contributing defensive back in Saban's system. Perry had 38 tackles that season (18 solo), with two tackles for loss, a sack and two passes broken up. Many fans were critical of Perry's performance at times, as he was still somewhat inconsistent despite a growing knowledge of the system.

The 2013 season brought a bit of a setback for Perry, as the defensive back suffered a season-ending injury in the season's second game, cutting short what would have been his senior season and his last chance at impressing NFL scouts. In his brief time on the field before the injury, Perry recorded a single stat: one pass broken up. Fortune smiled on the defensive back, however, as he was granted a medical redshirt, and thus, another season of eligibility with the Tide.

In his fifth year in crimson, Perry found his niche as the Tide's nickel back and "relief pitcher." Early in the season, with depth in the secondary an issue, injuries began to take their toll. Despite a targeting ejection in the second game of the season, Perry returned to help fill out a defensive backfield desperately in need of veteran experience. Working in tandem with All-American safety Landon Collins, Perry blossomed into the steady defender many thought he would be when he arrived in Tuscaloosa. Because of the suspension, Perry saw time in 13 games as the Tide fought for a spot in the College Football playoffs, and acquitted himself quite well. Perry recorded an impressive 74 tackles (48 solo), two interceptions, 3.5 tackles for loss, five passes broken up and one quarterback hurry.

Perry's career-defining performance came in the Tide's battle with then top-ranked Mississippi State. The Tide free safety was a force, overshadowing the performance of the more highly-lauded Collins with a team-high nine tackles, half a sack and an interception of MSU's Dak Prescott. His play in the game earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Also, regarding late-season highlights, there's this...

More importantly, Perry provided a still-green secondary with a veteran presence and solid play against the run. Perry was used by defensive coordinator Kirby Smart at times on the corner blitz, and the stocky Perry fit the bill as a pass rusher and run stuffer. Perry dispelled any inconsistency barbs that had been thrown his way in previous season, as he became a Tide defender upon whom Saban would count as the season wore on.

Beyond Alabama

While many would have scoffed at Perry's NFL prospects prior to the 2014 season, the defensive back has done nothing but solidify his standing in the eyes of pro scouts throughout his excellent performance during what could be the Tide's third championship run in four seasons.

While Perry doesn't have what pro scouts consider elite speed for a safety (4.52 in the 40), he brings a combination of decent speed, good size and high intelligence to the table for any team that eventually drafts him. In the league, teams often put a premium on the intelligence of athletes, as, unlike in the college game, elite athletes cannot rely solely on athleticism to buoy them above their opponents. Perry is an extremely heady player who combines good size with football acumen.

Following his senior campaign, Perry has emerged as a potential draft pick in 2015, whereas prior to the season, a free agent signing would have been considered a huge win. Perry is currently rated 17th among a field of 117 free safeties eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft. Scout's Kevin Weidl said Perry has impressed pro scouts with his play in 2014, and as a result, his stock is rising. After the Mississippi State game, he tweeted that "Perry is steady in the back end and made a handful of plays for Alabama." Pro Football Focus gave Perry a +5.3 grade following the Tide's match-up with the Bulldogs, the highest for any member of the Tide team in that game.

Whether Perry gets a go in the NFL or not, Bama fans will remember him as the defensive back who stuck around long enough to soak up his time in the sun, and for his potentially game-saving interceptions against Mississippi State and Auburn as the Tide worked for a shot at its 16th national championship.