Ruggiero shares comparison about pupils Colston, Perry with Saints
The New Orleans Saints have been remarkably good, uncanny in unearthing and discovering rare gems in the late rounds of the NFL Draft and among undrafted free agents.
In the Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, Dennis Allen era, the list is long.
It includes the likes of Thomas Morstead and Carl Nicks (5th round), Kaden Elliss and Zach Strief (7th round) through the draft. Nicks is in the Saints Hall of Fame and Morstead, whenever he retires, is a virtual lock to be inducted as well.
Then, there are the undrafted free agents.
Malcom Brown, Marquez Callaway, Jonathan Casillas, Ken Crawley, Andrew Dowell, Junior Gallette, Carl Granderson, J.T. Gray, Deonte Harty, Josh Hill, Chris Ivory, Tim Lelito, Tommylee Lewis, Lance Moore, Malcolm Roach, Craig Robertson, Rashid Shaheed, Willie Snead, Pierre Thomas and Shy Tuttle and Tyrunn Walker are some good examples of those who enjoyed success despite being ignored in the draft.
For that matter, Jabari Greer was undrafted and he played very well for the Saints for five seasons after finishing in Buffalo.
Moore and Thomas are in the Saints Hall of Fame.
Most notable before the Loomis/Payton/Allen regime as an undrafted free agent success was Sammy Knight, who is also in the Saints Hall of Fame. Then, there was La’Roi Glover, a waiver wire claim from the Raiders after being undrafted who became an All-Pro, led the NFL in sacks in 2000 and eventually landed in the Saints Hall of Fame.
The Saints have tried the big receiver investment before, hoping for the next Colston.
The names Adrian Arrington, Brandon Coleman, Krishawn Hogan, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Seantavius Jones, Keith Kirkwood, Tre’Quan Smith, Nick Toon and Kevin White certainly come to mind. All were big but came up well short of the mark of Colston.
Now, there is another candidate, a contender to accept the challenge and to fill the void left by Colston after the 2015 season.
A.T. Perry (6-5, 205) certainly has the measurables.
Perry certainly has the numbers, the production at a high level of college football to bolster his resume. In four seasons with the Demon Deacons, Perry amassed 171 receptions for 2,662 yards and 28 touchdowns, the most in program history.
Perry has the speed, particularly for a man of his size (4.47) in the 40-yard dash.
Based on those facts, the thought was that Perry would go earlier in the draft.
He did not.
The Saints traded up in the sixth round to grab Perry, giving up Adam Trautman, a former third-round pick, in the process.
In 2006, the Saints drafted Colston in the seventh round out of Hofstra.
Colston (6-5, 224) certainly had the size. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Colston also certainly had the numbers and the productivity you wanted with 183 receptions for 2,834 yards and 18 touchdowns.
For a big man, he ran well enough (4.51) in the forty-yard dash.
Based on those facts, the thought was that Colston may go earlier in the draft.
He did not.
Colston went on to prove virtually everyone wrong.
Sean Payton saw the potential, quickly moved Colston past fifth-round pick Mike Hass, selected in the same 2006 draft by New Orleans, and the rest is history.
Colston is the all-time leading receiver in franchise history with 711 catches for 9,759 yards and 72 touchdown receptions. He was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2019.
The similarities between Colston and Perry are intriguing, including the height, production and lack of respect in the draft.
The similarities go deeper, thanks to a primary mentor for both.
Warren Ruggiero was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Hofstra when Colston was a prominent member of the Pride.
Ruggiero is now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Wake Forest, where Perry was a prominent member of the Demon Deacons.
In both cases, Ruggiero felt there was one consistent element which prevailed.
“Marques was under-recruited in high school,” Ruggiero said. “The same was true of A.T.”
Ruggiero recalled the recruiting process of Colston.
“We were looking at five guys and Marques wasn’t one of them,” Ruggiero said. “I was walking out the door of the high school finishing up my conversation with the coach, Marques came walking by and the coach introduced him. He’s got a chance. He’s a really good basketball player just starting to get used to football. I was lucky not to get out the door too soon, I met him and we recruited him.”
Unassuming and reserved, Colston is a picture of calm consistency. When he spoke, people listened as Colston was not a man of many words but his few words were substantive as a player with the Saints, thus, earning the nickname “The Quiet Storm.”
Colston let his play speak for itself with the Saints and at Hofstra.
“Marques did not talk a lot,” Ruggiero said. “He was quiet. You were kind of wondering how he would be on game day. We certainly thought Marques had potential with his size, frame and with his bang hands and could catch,” Ruggiero said. “He just hadn’t been developed at that point. He hit the weight room and trained. We felt he had a chance to be really good.”
When his chance came, Colston took full advantage of it.
“His true freshman year, he did not start,” Ruggiero said. “We had two older kids who ended up getting a shot in the NFL who really kind of mentored him a little bit. One blew out his knee in the eighth game of the year, Marques had to come in, and he wound up having eight catches for about 150 yards in his first game and the rest was history. He wasn’t vocal by any stretch but when the lights came on, he was ready to go.”
Was Colston overlooked or hurt by playing for a smaller program at Hofstra?
“I cannot speak for NFL scouts, front office personnel or coaches about what they are looking for,” Ruggiero said. “Marques did not run very fast when we first got him but he improved his speed annually and he improved as a player annually. Just as he was under-recruited out of high school, it turned out that he was under-valued initially in the NFL but the Saints saw the potential and gave him a chance.”
Did Ruggiero envision Colston being as good as he turned out with the Saints?
“We thought he had the potential to play and play well in the NFL with his size, frame, big hands and his ability to catch the ball,” Ruggiero said. We felt he was an under-developed kid who had a chance to be very good.”
Ruggiero saw the similarities between Colston and Perry immediately when he recruited the latter to Wake Forest.
“I think coming out of high school, A.T. was probably exactly like Marques was, a big, long kid who could bend with big hands and had some raw tools and was very under-recruited. It was late in his senior year. We looked at five kids and we decided on him.”
Ruggiero drew upon his experience with Colston in projecting what Perry could be.
“He was very similar in skill and development to Marques at that point of his high school career,” Ruggiero said. “We felt if he got three or four years of development and training, he had a huge upside. It took him a couple of years to develop. Similar to Colston, we had someone get hurt and when A.T. got in, he made the most of his opportunity, made a lot of big plays and performed well.”
Ruggiero sees clear skills that will give Perry a real shot in the NFL.
“A.T. can definitely run and change directions as good as anyone else at that level for his size,” Ruggerio said. “He plays with confidence. I don’t think he’ll ever be in a situation where the moment might be too big for him. When he gets those opportunities, he’ll take advantage of them if he gets enough of an opportunity with the Saints. His skill set can transfer to the NFL level.”
The comparison between Perry and Colston ran even deeper.
“A.T. was very quiet when he arrived at Wake Forest as Marques was when he arrived at Hofstra,” Ruggiero said. “Since then, with things going well for him, he’s gained confidence and he certainly is more talkative with the media and all others than he was when he first arrived and was first figuring things out. He’s not naturally vocal but neither was Marques.”
Ruggiero has coached players who have made it in the NFL and those who have not.
“When I talk to scouts and they ask me about different players, though I’ve never coached in the NFL, I always ask the scouts after they take one of our guys or don’t take them why they did or did not,” Ruggiero said. “I always ask them what they were good at and what they were not good at to learn what NFL teams are looking for so if they are deficient in any area, we can adjust and help them develop.”
What Ruggiero has gleaned has proven valuable.
“It typically isn’t an ability thing but how quickly a player can learn an offense and a system with the limited amount of reps they get,” Ruggiero said. “It’s a lot of information quickly. Unless you’re a first-round draft pick, a lot of times, your window of opportunity is very small. Coaches, general managers and organizations are all different in what they are looking for. Processing and learning information quickly can make a huge difference.”
Like Colston, Ruggiero feels Perry has something to prove.
“I would hope A.T. has a chip on his shoulder and puts the necessary work in to work on the things teams may have thought he was lacking,” Ruggiero said. “He certainly has the ability to do it.”
In the final analysis, Ruggiero, who has coached 10 players selected in the NFL draft, is pleased that it is the Saints who chose to provide a chance for Perry to realize his dream.
“Marques Colston was a special player to me and we had a long history together and had a long voyage,” Ruggiero said. “To see an organization take him and not dismiss him right away and to actually give him a chance to develop and to see the ability that he had is awesome and I commend the Saints organization for giving him a chance to succeed and that gives us confidence that the Saints will do the same with A.T.”
The Saints and Saints fans are certainly hoping the similarities between Colston and Perry end up with the same career conclusion.
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