Can Evan Watkins Replace Dan Persa?

This is the question on everybody's mind.

Dan Persa had one of the best quarterbacking years in recent memory, breaking conference and school records and leading NU singlehandedly to several victories as NU's only offensive option, both in the air and on the ground. But with his Achilles all ruptured and whatnot, in comes rando redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, grand total of seven career college passing attempts.  He's an enigma.

But at the same time, he's an awesome enigma. Watching him in spring practice, I thought he should start over Dan Persa. (I was very wrong and very stupid.) What caught my eye?

I've seen every one of those passing attempts, but also seen him play more than the average person - several times in practice and at the spring game - so here's a scouting report on the precocious neophyte before he hits the field.

Accuracy: He won't be Dan Persa. We've only seen limited attempts, but it's safe to say he's not the same passer that the guy that just set the Big Ten record for highest completion percentage was/is. His completion ratings in scrimmage/practice were never that great - some of this was on disturbing drops by B team receivers - but it's not something you love to see.

Grade: A+

Arm strength: Let's put it this way: in spring ball, Sidney Stewart told me that in practice, he calls Evan Watkins "flamethrower." That is awesome. What drew me to Watkins earlier this year was that Persa - from having watched him at Iowa - seemed hesitant to throw the ball down field, and I was worried this was due to a lack of ability. (Too many years of watching Chad Pennington will make you think that.) Persa has spent all year assuaging that fear. But I have no such fear with Watkins: he's going to live in the 15-25 yard range more than most NU quarterbacks we see. Don't count out the Watkins-Ebert connection.

Grade: A+

Scrambling ability: Watkins is deceptively fast for a 6'6, 250-pounder. He can move his feet, and more importantly, he can make guys miss, and did during the spring game. I'd describe his running ability as Kafka-esque: he's very fast for a guy his size, and uses that to his advantage when making moves on guys in the open field.

Grade: A+

Vision: He's 6'6!

Grade: A+

QB IQ: This is the thing you have to be most worried about: the Northwestern offense is pretty copy-paste: short routes from time to time that most college-level quarterbacks can hit if they want to. However, they have to know when to make the throw and when not to: a few years ago against Minnesota, Mike Kafka starting for the first time in two years thought he had a quick in route that works 90 percent of the time, instead, it turned into an easy pick six. Watkins has demonstrated he has an arm, but has shown lack of judgment passing the ball: he threw a few picks in spring ball - notably one in the spring game - and nearly tossed one in close-out duty against Indiana on one of his two passing attempts. He'll have to know when to look off the first receiver and move on to his second option - and sometimes throw it away.

Grade: A+

Leadership skills: One time, Evan Watkins came up to me, looked me in the eye, and said "hey, bro, I'd appreciate it if you got my name - that's 'Evan Watkins' - tattooed across your right thigh." I'd never met him before. I didn't even know who he was. But I'll be damned if it's not the right thigh tattoo of which I'm the most proud.

Grade: A+

Highlight reel video editing skills: Hell and yes.

Illinois: prepare to be Victim No. 1.

Grade: A+

Overall: I can't tell you how Evan Watkins will play. Nobody can. Not even Evan Watkins, and he can tell you pretty much anything, including where to tattoo his name on your body. However, I don't predict total chaos. No, he probably won't/can't be prototype Northwestern spread offense quick out route quarterback clone no. 39815723. He doesn't have that skillset, and that might hurt him. But Watkins' running ability and, let's call it what it is, cannon will stretch the defense - which is exactly what you want from a spread quarterback, even if he goes about it in a different way than Persa does. So I'm excited.

Grade: A+

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