Final season for Michael Penix Jr. improves NFL Draft stock

Jan 8, 2024, 12:52 PM | Updated: 9:26 pm

NFL Draft Michael Penix Jr...

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. reacts after a first down on Nov. 25, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

HOUSTON (AP) — UW Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was thought to be a third or fourth round NFL Draft pick had he left school after last season.

FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt: Michael Penix is a top-5 NFL Draft pick

But his improvement in his second season at Washington has his draft stock skyrocketing. And some believe he could be taken in the first round after leading the Huskies (14-0) to an undefeated season and the CFP title game Monday night against Michigan (14-0).

“He’s only helped himself with what he’s done this year … and put himself in the conversation to be one of the first four quarterbacks drafted,” said Dane Brugler, The Athletic’s draft expert.

Penix, a sixth-year senior, led the nation with a career-high 4,648 yards passing and his 35 touchdown passes, were also the most of his career and ranked third in the country.

He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting behind LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels and won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player.

Washington coach Kalen DeBoer pointed to a mindset shift that he saw from Penix to explain the elevation of his game this season.

“He’s never going to have any regrets,” DeBoer said.

That means that if something needed to be said to a teammate, he’d say it and if he needed to be quiet at times, he did that, too. It meant putting in an extra hour working on routes this summer or spending more time in the weight room.

Just doing everything possible to make sure he could be exactly what his team needed him to be.

“I know that’s bigger picture when I say no regrets, but it has all the areas and just being all in, 100 miles an hour,” DeBoer said.

Damon Huard: UW Huskies’ Michael Penix ‘is ready’ for NFL Draft

Penix hasn’t thought that deeply about the changes to his game this season and to him the reason for his improvement is simple.

“Just confidence,” he said. “And I feel like just everybody around me being in the second year with this team, in this offense, it’s definitely elevated us to new heights.”

It also certainly didn’t hurt that this is the first time in his long career that Penix has played consecutive seasons without a season-ending injury. Each of his four years at Indiana were cut short by injuries. He tore his ACL in 2018 and 2020 and had shoulder injuries in both 2019 and 2021.

With so many injuries in his past, his medical reports leading up to the draft will be important in determining if he’ll be taken early. But Brugler thinks playing these last two seasons without a serious injury should be a boost.

“He had the one healthy season last year, 2022 at Washington, which great — he had one season,” Brugler said. “But to do it again, to come back and have the success that he did, but then just be on the field for every single game and be healthy, that certainly matters.”

Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb believes Penix excels in an underdog role. When people doubt him, he simply does more to show that he’s the best.

“His response in the middle of the season, when things got harder, and people would continue to give us different looks, Mike didn’t get complacent,” Grubb said. “He really dug in. I think that’s a really defining moment for great players.”

Grubb pointed to Penix and the offense bouncing back with a great performance in the Pac-12 title game after barely escaping with a 24-21 win over Washington State in the regular-season finale.

“We’re just not clicking, we don’t look that great on offense,” Grubb said. “And then you roll into the Pac-12 championship game, and everybody’s basically wrote you off. Like, ‘oh their offense isn’t really that good.’ And then Mike comes out and shows out in the Pac-12 championship. … I don’t think he ever flinched.”

Penix threw for 319 yards in the conference championship game to lead Washington to a 34-31 win over Oregon before his 430 yards passing and two touchdowns lifted the team to a 37-31 win over Texas to advance to the national title game.

Though NFL decision-makers will look at his entire career when deciding where he’ll be drafted, it can’t hurt that he’s had some of his best games in recent weeks.

“He’s just so aggressive as a passer and that’s what you want at the NFL level,” Brugler said. “But he’s taking care of the football as well. He’s not making these big mistakes. He’ll work vertically or horizontally. There’s not a single square inch of the field that he’s afraid to attack. … He is a fantastic deep ball thrower. And for certain schemes in the NFL, that’s going to be catnip.”

For his part, Penix insists he isn’t worried about where he’ll be drafted and is happy just to be in the position to move on to the next level.

“I really don’t focus in on the draft stuff because I feel like God has a plan for me and I’m going to trust that,” he said. “So, I’ve just been trying to work on being the best version of myself for my team and for this university, each and every day.”

The undefeated, No. 2-ranked UW Huskies meet the undefeated, No. 1-ranked Michigan Wolverines in the College Football Playoff National Championship at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8. You can hear the ESPN Radio broadcast live on Seattle Sports 710 AM, or streaming on the Seattle Sports app and SeattleSports.com.

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Final season for Michael Penix Jr. improves NFL Draft stock