Broncos RB Samaje Perine brings low-key versatility

Teammates and coaches describe Denver Broncos RB Samaje Perine as versatile and physical. Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Most everything about Denver Broncos running back Samaje Perine is mild-mannered.

The easygoing demeanor in the day-to-day swirl of the NFL, the soft-spoken way words emerge from behind a beard one of his teammates simply dubbed "elite," Perine exudes the chilled perspective of a seven-year veteran who knows where he fits. But then there's the football part.

"Samaje? Samaje will come right at you,'' safety Justin Simmons said. "I think guys know when they close in on Samaje, it is going to be, let's say, bruising."

When the 5-10, 236-pound Perine signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal in March, it was mildly celebrated in the inevitable winners-and-losers dissections of free agency. It had all the indications of a good fit for a team in desperate need of good fits up and down the depth chart but didn't move the proverbial needle.

But 12 games into his first Broncos' season, Perine is not just a good fit, he's a reliable player who finishes runs with exclamation points and who catches practically anything thrown his way. In short, whenever he's been asked to do something, he's done it.

"He's versatile,'' coach Sean Payton said. "He's one of those guys, and I think it's a good trait. ... He's playing on third down. He's playing when the other players are out. He does a lot of things well, and he's in a position where there's oftentimes a lot of attrition.''

Perine isn't the Broncos RB1; Javonte Williams is. And Perine isn't the first option off the bench. That would be Jaleel McLaughlin. But when the Broncos need a guy to be a runner, blocker or receiver, Perine seems to appear in the lineup.

In the Broncos' Week 11 win over the Minnesota Vikings, Perine had three of his seven receptions, as well as a 7-yard run on his only carry of the game, during the winning drive. In the Week 12 win over the Cleveland Browns, he had a season-high 55 yards rushing and a touchdown.

"[When the] game's on the line, you believe in the people around you,'' quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Physical as can be, got great hands. ... He's a ballplayer.''

When Perine signed with the Broncos he was asked about his playing style. He responded, "it's a constant dose of in-your-face running.''

A back who has played for four teams and only carried the ball more than 100 times once -- his rookie season -- the Broncos only handed him the ball once in Sunday's Week 13 loss, 22-17, to the Houston Texans. He holds the FBS record for rushing yards in a game (427) when he ran for five touchdowns for Oklahoma against Kansas in 2014.

In a statistical quirk, of the four players who have rushed for more than 400 yards in an FBS game, two have played for the Broncos over the past three seasons (Melvin Gordon III is the other).

"He figured things out faster than some others, certainly faster than some others who didn't ever rush for 400 yards in game,'' Broncos running backs coach Lou Ayeni said. "I think he's found what's going to keep him in the league a long time. He's got the ability to run the ball, makes plays with the ball in his hand, but he's a receiver and a quality pass protector.''

Williams has started 10 of the Broncos' 12 games at running back this season -- he was inactive in Week 5 against the New York Jets with a hip injury -- and McLaughlin has often been used as the second back in, but Perine's participation has run hot and cold at times.

Overall, he has 37 carries, fourth-most on the team behind Williams, McLaughlin and Wilson. Perine is third on the club with 35 catches. Even as his production indicates he should perhaps get additional opportunities, the 28-year-old said he continues to prepare himself for whatever comes up on the to-do list, including Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) against the Los Angeles Chargers. It's the second of three consecutive road games for the Broncos (6-6) as they try to stay in the AFC playoff race.

"I just feel like we are continuing to build up a trust,'' Perine said. "... I'm going to be where I'm supposed to be and [Wilson] knows where I'm going to be so he can give me the ball.''