With Penn football struggling on the field right now, we enter into the world of hypotheticals, as we imagine a better Quaker team.
Four of our staff writers debate which Penn alumnus in the NFL would hypothetically have the biggest impact on the field for the Quakers today.
Justin Watson - Wide Receiver, W'18, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Brandon Pride, Senior Sports Editor
Even though Watson has contributed the least in the NFL this year compared to anyone else on this list, I still think he would have the biggest impact on Penn’s team. This is simply because during his time in Philadelphia, he was nearly without question the most dominant Quaker we’ve ever seen. The four-year starter holds virtually every receiving record in Penn’s book and led the team to two Ivy League titles.
While he would enter an already talented receiving room with the likes of seniors Ryan Cragun and Rory Starkey Jr., he would still instantly open up the field for freshman quarterback Aidan Sayin — who has already proved he is not afraid to take a shot. The two could create a formidable tandem that would have even Harvard and Dartmouth’s defenses restless the night before games.
If Watson were allowed to suit up for the Quakers again, it’s not crazy to believe that the Super Bowl champion could once again be an Ivy League champion.
Greg Van Roten - Guard, W'12, New York Jets - Eashwar Kantemneni, Sports Associate
Despite playing for the lowly Gang Green this season, I believe that Van Roten would easily have the biggest impact on the Quakers' football team. During his time in Philadelphia, he was an immovable force in the trenches and one of the most reliable players in the Ivy League.
During his last three years at Penn, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound guard started all 30 games and anchored the offensive line that guided the Red and Blue to three consecutive Ivy League titles from 2010-12 and the sixth-best rushing attack. Even more, his line gave up the fourth-fewest sacks in the nation in 2009 and 2010.
If he were to join the Quakers again, he would open up many holes for a talented running duo in graduate student Isaiah Malcome and senior Trey Flowers to exploit and would instantly energize a rushing attack, which currently ranks fifth in the Ivy League. His blocking would also give more time to Sayin, who has shown his willingness to spread the ball in the air, go through his progressions, and make an accurate throw.
Brandon Copeland, Linebacker, W’13 - Matthew Frank, Deputy Sports Editor
The Atlanta Falcon is the obvious choice to the question of which Penn alumnus would be most effective if they re-entered the team today. Copeland, who, at 30 years old, still looks to have some prime playing years ahead of him, would be a game-changer for the Quakers on defense in a way that none of the offensive players can be.
For Van Roten, his efforts don’t matter if the rest of the offensive line and his quarterback can't play, as he can only protect the quarterback from one defender. And for Watson, his skill as wide receiver doesn’t come into play unless he has a solid quarterback to consistently find him in open space.
Copeland, on the other hand, can provide immediate pass rush on every play, considering that he can likely blow by one, or even two, Ivy League offensive linemen with ease. The opposing offenses Penn faces would likely be rendered useless due to this kind of pressure and would struggle to put any points on the scoreboard.
Even considering him as a linebacker who rushes the quarterback less often than he drops back into coverage, Copeland would still be a menace to the Red and Blue's opponents, as he’d easily be able to match up with the wide receivers and running backs Penn faces on a weekly basis. For a man who has 133 combined tackles in his 74-game NFL career, shutting down the offenses that the Red and Blue go against would be a piece of cake.
Kevin Stefanski - Safety and OC, C'04, Cleveland Browns - Nicky Belgrad, Deputy Sports Editor
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski was one of the best defensive players to adorn a Red and Blue uniform. He is also a football savant, a recent winner of Coach of the Year, and one of the youngest head coaches in the NFL. In his first season with the Browns, he led them to a playoff appearance and victory over his division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. If he came back to the Quakers, he could reintroduce us to the concept of a "player coach."
At Penn, though Stefanski was limited by nagging injuries which ultimately ended his career, he was twice named All-Ivy and contributed to an undefeated season in 2003.
His play aside, Stefanski would easily address key issues in Penn's game planning, specifically on the offensive side. With block and run schemes set to enhance the talents of halfbacks Flowers and Malcome mixed in with deep shots off play-action, Stefanski certainly would improve the Quakers' last-ranked Ivy League offense.
As an offensive coordinator for the Vikings in 2019, Stefanski engineered a top-10 scoring squad in Minnesota. Then, in his first season as head coach of the Browns, his team posted the third-best rushing attack in the NFL. Given Penn's offensive personnel, Stefanski would turn the uninspired and malfunctioning Quaker offense into a flexible and well-oiled machine.
As a safety, Stefanski would bolster an already impressive defense squad. With depth on the defensive line, at the linebacker position, and in the secondary, Penn’s formidable defense would be a threat to other Ivy League offenses.
The defense currently ranks second in the Ivy League in passing yards allowed, meaning Stefanski’s presence would turn this solid unit into an elite force. With Stefanski playing single-high safety, Penn’s defense would have much more freedom in their defensive schemes, blitz packages, and coverage.