Five games into his pro career, it seems all Pernell McPhee does is make plays.
Check out this stat line the rookie defensive end has put up so far this season: two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass defended.
Not too shabby for a fifth-round pick.
“Young guy, but huge upside,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He’s got a ton of talent, real explosive and everything. He’s got it. He’s a guy that in the future is going to be a stud.”
In just three years, McPhee has gone from Itawamba Community College, a school of 7,000 in Mississippi, to a key contributor on the top scoring defense in the NFL.
The second of back-to-back fifth-round picks by the Ravens in this year’s draft, McPhee couldn’t have been expected to perform at a high level this quickly. The now-22-year-old had big-time success at Itawamba CC, posting 32.5 sacks in two years, and then moderate success in two years at Mississippi State, recording seven sacks in two seasons.
But it’s tough for any rookie, much less one who is selected on the third day of the draft, to step in and make immediate contributions at the NFL level due to the learning curve and the speed of the game. That’s what’s made McPhee’s production so surprising.
“I’m very impressed, to say the least,” said outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who often lines up next to McPhee in third-down pass rush situations. “There’s not enough you can say about the kind of guy he is. Works his butt off in practice and just does everything right. For him to come through in the games like that, it just reflects what he’s done in practice, taking what (defensive line coach Clarence) Brooks is teaching him and applying it on the field.
“I respect the guy a lot. We’re good friends and I think he’s a hell of a player. Being the age he is and it being his rookie year, you can’t say enough about what he’s doing.”
For now, the Ravens have used McPhee almost exclusively in third-down passing situations, subbing him in as an interior rusher who can get up the field. Given how well he’s played in that role, you’d think the coaches would look for additional ways to get him on the field, but the problem with that is the guys the Ravens play on first and second downs - Cory Redding, Johnson, etc. - are also playing at a high level and have proven track records.
Head coach John Harbaugh said he’s noticed that McPhee is “hungry” for increased reps, but the rookie says that he’s perfectly happy with the way he’s being utilized at this point.
“I really want to play my role, whatever role coach has got for me, whatever they put in for the game plan, week-in and week-out,” McPhee said. “I’m just respectful that they’re still getting me on the field, but other than that, I love my role and what I’m doing now.”
“He’s right where he needs to be,” Johnson said. “He’s sitting back and he’s learning from veterans. As talented as he is, a rookie has got a lot of room to grow and a lot to learn about the game. He’s in the process of learning how to be a player, but the talent side is through the roof.”