2017 might have been the busiest year for Penn football’s relationship with the National Football League since the new millennium.
While multiple former Quakers have been bouncing around preseason and practice squads for the last few years, this past year represented the program’s best chance in decades to land skill players in high-profile spots.
Alek Torgersen graduated in May as possibly Penn’s greatest quarterback in history, having broken the program records for career touchdowns (52), pass completion percentage (65.1) and yards of total offense (7,937) in his four years for the Red and Blue.
While many tapped Torgersen to be the first Quaker drafted in 15 years during the NFL Draft in April, his name was left on the board after all 253 picks had been used. Just minutes after the end of the draft, however, Torgersen found himself in negotiations with the reigning NFC Champions, the Atlanta Falcons, and ultimately joined them during the summer to fight for a spot on their roster.
His NFL debut came during the preseason when the Falcons played the Miami Dolphins in August. Torgersen completed all five of his passes for a total of 19 yards and rushed for 17 in addition to being sacked once.
Unfortunately, his next game didn’t fare as well. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 20, Torgersen threw an interception and went 2-for-8 for 25 yards.
He was cut from the 90-man roster on Sept. 1. It was a bad weekend for the Quakers — 2016 graduate and former Penn tight end Ryan O’Malley was cut by the Oakland Raiders the next day.
Just days later, Torgersen was picked up by the Washington Redskins and placed on their practice squad. One month later, though, he was cut once again, setting back his thought-to-be promising career prospects.
Similarly, O’Malley signed for the Buffalo Bills to play on their practice squad on Oct. 10. He was dropped during the season but has since signed for the New York Giants' practice squad.
A third former Penn player who was frustrated this season was Detroit Lions linebacker Brandon Copeland. The 2013 graduate, who recorded 30 tackles and half a sack for the Lions in 2015 and 2016, tore his pectoral muscle in his preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Copeland was ruled out for the season, forcing him to wait until 2018 if he wants to continue getting reps in the NFL.
Not all hope for the Quakers is lost, despite facing setbacks in 2017.
Copeland could very well return to the fray next season, but in the meantime, the Wharton alumnus has received attention from national media outlets like ESPN for his special balance between playing in the NFL and working on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, Penn senior wide receiver Justin Watson finished a record-smashing career in November and has been preparing for a potential campaign to hear his name called in the NFL Draft next April.
Watson holds the Penn program records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions, and the Pennsylvanian also broke the Ivy League record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception (10). He could just be the Quakers’ next best chance of a first draftee since 2002, having been observed by scouts from multiple NFL teams during his senior season.
So while 2017 was a busy year for Penn football alumni in the NFL, it looks like 2018 could be an even busier one as the program continues to grow in national relevance.
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