It seems like an NFL scout’s dream: a quarterback with good feet, a strong, accurate arm, who happened to be a two-year team captain in college.
That’s not all, this quarterback completed 72.7 percent of his passes—good for the all-time FBS record.
This quarterback is Northwestern’s Dan Persa, who cemented his place in the program’s long history.
Persa possess the skills and intangibles that it takes to be an NFL quarterback. He has a rocket for an arm and can move in the pocket better than most quarterbacks. He was the undisputed team leader for the winningest class in Northwestern history.
The knock on Dan Persa, however, is that he measures out at 5-foot-11, which is considered undersized in the eyes of NFL scouts.
After Northwestern’s bowl game, Persa traveled to Orlando so he could begin training for the East-West Shrine Game. This was his chance to impress NFL front-office personnel. He put together a strong week of practice, then showed off his arm during the East-West Shrine Game.
"He's smart, he makes quick decisions and has a good release," a scout told the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Pompei. "I thought he was the best quarterback down there.”
But Persa’s frame automatically drops him toward the bottom of most NFL Draft projections, where he is seen to be a late-round selection or even being skipped completely.
A reason for optimism of Persa’s stock is the success of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who similarly to Persa, was considered to be undersized, standing barely at six feet tall. Yet he boasts claim to a Super Bowl title and was named the NFL’s MVP in 2011.
Persa has a proven track record from his college career, and has NFL personnel impressed. That seems hard to pass on.
The 2011 NFL season exposed numerous NFL teams for their poor backup plan at quarterback. The Chicago Bears, for example, saw their season slip away when starting quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a season-ending injury, and backup Caleb Hanie proved to be inefficient. He completed just 50 percent of his passes, and teammates soon lost confidence in him.
Persa has value for an NFL team. As a quarterback, he offers a strong arm and a confident presence in the pocket, with the ability to escape when needed. If NFL teams shy away from Persa as a quarterback, his athleticism presents the possibility of a move to receiver or defensive back.
Regardless, there is value for Persa as an NFL player.
“I'd take him as an athlete who could be a receiver, a returner and a quarterback,” that same scout told the Chicago Tribune.
There is no guarantee how Persa’s strengths translate to the next level, but it’s surely worth discovering.
Dan Persa could be an MVP-caliber quarterback, just like Drew Brees. He could instead be a useful special teams player. Persa has value to offer. He’s worth the shot.