Offensive linemen are rarely expected to assume prominent roles right off the bat. Jeffrey Persi was no exception — in fact, he arrived in Ann Arbor even farther away from contributing than most.
Many Michigan football fans probably first learned of Persi when he committed to the Wolverines in 2019 and haven’t given much thought to him since. Persi’s got the kind of talent to jump right back on their radar. It probably won’t happen this season, but with the proper development and patience, the massive tackle from California might one day hold down the Wolverines’ blindside.
The story so far
The first thing to understand about Persi is he’s only been an offensive lineman since 2018. He started out as a tight end at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., but before his junior season, his head coach, eight-year NFL veteran Pat Harlow, convinced him he’d be better suited as a lineman.
At the time of his commitment, Persi was listed as a four-star by Rivals and ESPN and a three-star by 247Sports while sitting somewhere in the 30-40 range among offensive tackles in his class. He also held 27 scholarship offers, including Oklahoma, UCLA, USC, Nebraska and Ole Miss. Not bad for someone just learning the fundamentals of his position.
“Raw” would probably be the first word used to describe Persi coming out of high school. He displayed the athleticism one would expect from a converted tight end, including a 5.36-second 40-yard dash and a 4.75 shuttle at The Opening Los Angeles in February 2019.
At the same time, he had just 260 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame. Scouting reports praised his quickness and length while also acknowledging he needed to fill out and keep working on his technique.
“I mean, he’s 6-feet-7 and a half with a frame that could easily be 320 or more that can run and bend,” Harlow told Orion Sang of the Detroit Free Press in 2019. ”It’s hard to find people who can do that. He’s also got a high motor, a lot of tenacity. I think those are things that are hard to find in big guys.”
Outlook for the future
Persi was probably never going to play as a freshman, and lo and behold, he didn’t see any action last fall. That doesn’t mean much related to his future prospects.
Persi fits the Ryan Hayes mold of tall, athletic tackles in need of time to cultivate the requisite mass to effectively play the the position in the Big Ten. Currently listed at 302 pounds on MGoBlue.com, it appears Persi’s right on track in that area.
Speaking of Hayes, Jim Harbaugh said last month he’s one of three Wolverines that have locked down starting spots on the offensive line, along with Andrew Stueber and Zak Zinter. Harbaugh also singled out six other linemen with the potential to start, none of whom are Persi. At the tackle spots, there’s Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones, while Stueber can play there as well.
Harbaugh did mention Persi, calling him a “late bloomer” this spring, but unless something drastic happens, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the mix for serious playing time in 2021. The Wolverines almost certainly want to keep it that way.
Offensive tackle is a position that requires a heavy investment and plenty of patience. So far, that’s exactly what Michigan’s giving Persi. There’s a good chance it pays off someday, even if that day isn’t tomorrow.