Top 10 performers, No. 7: Perry

After concluding our series on the top 10 moments of the 2011 USC football season, we've started a new series on the Trojans' top 10 performers this year. With one player per day Monday-Friday, the list will last until Friday, Dec. 23.

Coming in at No. 10 Monday was safety T.J. McDonald, at No. 9 on Tuesday was defensive tackle Christian Tupou and No. 8 on Wednesday was running back Curtis McNeal. Here's No. 7: defensive end Nick Perry.

If Tupou was, as we wrote Tuesday, the key to the USC run defense's rapid improvement from 2010 to 2011, then Perry was the catalyst to the pass defense's development over the course of the 2011 season.

It was still a weakness, no doubt. But Perry and his conference-leading 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles were a big part of the unit's emergence as the season progressed. He didn't reach his stated goal of 15-plus sacks, but 9.5 is a worthy sum in itself, and the fact that he led the entire conference says quite a bit about what that number means.

And it wasn't just the sacks -- it was the pressure, and even the threat of pressure. Ask the conference's coaches who they think was the most dominating defensive player in the conference in 2011, and half of them will mention Perry's name. Offensive linemen sweated their meetings with him all year long.

Where does Perry stand now? He hasn't publicly announced a decision whether to stay for his senior season or head to next April's NFL draft, but he has a great shot to go high in the draft if he does indeed declare. He has everything an NFL team would want: enough production, incredible measures, and a solid work ethic and just-do-it mentality.

He won't win any personality awards, sure. He never looked comfortable talking to the media in his four years at USC. But that really doesn't matter.

Perry, 21, quietly went about his business. He had some shining moments, too, demonstrating a knack for knocking the ball out of quarterback's hands.

The next question: How will USC replace him, if he does indeed declare? Luckily, the Trojans had a three-man rotation at end all season, so there won't be any new players taking the majority of the snaps. Seniors-to-be Devon Kennard and Wes Horton will handle that. Where will the third and fourth ends come from?

Well, if Armond Armstead comes back and is cleared to compete, there's an easy answer. Greg Townsend Jr. seems like a likely candidate -- and junior-to-be Kevin Greene is going to get some snaps, too. But none of those players will replace the true dynamic pass-rushing ability Perry offers.

Check back Friday for performer No. 6, another defensive player.