What NFL Draft expert Zierlein thinks of UW Huskies’ Penix, Odunze

Feb 18, 2024, 10:01 AM | Updated: Feb 21, 2024, 4:01 pm

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr. Rome Odunze...

UW Huskies WR Rome Odunze celebrates his touchdown catch with QB Michael Penix Jr. on Nov. 18, 2023. (Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

(Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

The UW Huskies will be one of the teams that dominates this year’s NFL Draft.

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Washington has 13 players set to attend the NFL scouting combine, which is tied for the most of any college team this year and is a program record.

Two of the biggest names on that list are from UW’s offense in the form of quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who led the nation in passing each of the last two seasons, and wide receiver Rome Odunze, an All-American who led the nation in receiving yards in 2023.

What do we need to know about those two as draft prospects? NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, a longtime NFL Draft insider, joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy this week to break it down.

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The Huskies under offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb (who is now the OC of the Seattle Seahawks) had “unbelievable” passing concepts, Zierlein said.

“I just finished watching (receiver) Jalen McMillan, and once again, I was in awe of the passing scheme,” Zierlein said. “And I think it was very beneficial to the wide receivers and to Penix because he was able to throw into open spaces so often.”

Penix has become a bit of a polarizing prospect as he’s going to be 24 years old as an NFL rookie next year and suffered four season-ending injuries at Indiana before transferring to Washington.

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“I do want to say despite the injuries, Michael Penix really improved from his time at Indiana to Washington,” Zierlein said, “He’s become a more accurate passer. I think there are times like the Texas game where his touch is just phenomenal. I mean, that may be the best pure passing game I saw all year long. He was brilliant in that game.”

The issue with Penix’s game translating to the NFL, though, is what he does and doesn’t do under pressure, Zierlein said.

“The problem with Michael Penix is the Michigan game. He doesn’t take a lot of sacks — he’s good at getting rid of the football — but once you heat Michael Penix up, it really gets muddy for him and it’s a problem. Once he has to move his feet and get outside of the pocket, his completion percentage just plummets,” Zierlein said. “… And that’s a real concern because NFL teams just don’t let you sit there and do whatever you want in the pocket. That’s just not going to happen.”

Zierlein said there’s a lot to like when Penix stays clean, such as a quick delivery, good touch and a “nice catchable ball with a tight spiral.”

“But the flip side of that is that I think it needs to be a little clean, like really clean for him, and I think the right pieces need to be around him,” Zierlein said. “And then there were times he just relied on (Ja’Lynn) Polk and McMillan and especially Odunze where he just had one-on-one matchups, he saw pressure and he just threw it up in the air for a jump ball and he knew his guys had a better chance of winning. There’s not a great chance that his wide receivers (in the NFL) are going to have such an advantage on the corners like he did at Washington. So I think the biggest concern with him is can he play off structure, can he play against a rush if the offensive line is not a Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line like he had at Washington, and how do his medicals come out? And that’s going to be huge and that’s one you can’t get around.”

Ultimately, Zierlein doesn’t think Penix will be drafted in the first round.

“I think he has Day 2 talent. I don’t think he’ll go in the first round, but I do think in the right situation Michael Penix could end up being an NFL starter,” he said.

Video: Michael Penix on training for draft, Ryan Grubb as Seahawks OC

Massive praise for UW Huskies star Rome Odunze

Odunze put up massive numbers at Washington, and at 6 foot 3 and over 200 pounds, he’s a physical receiver who is very high on NFL Draft boards.

Zierlein is very intrigued by his game.

“When you look at Rome Odunze … he kind of cruises sometimes. He knows he’s gonna win the jump ball and you don’t really have much of a chance,” he said. “And I heard that he went and worked on rebound drills with the basketball team to really tighten up body control and a feel for body positioning. When the ball goes up, I mean, he completed over 60% of contested catches … That is an astounding number.”

Odunze almost certainly will not get as many jump balls in the NFL as he did in college, but Zierlein said that ability will help him be a very good receiver at the next level.

“Odunze is going to be able to run routes a lot better (in the NFL),” he said. “What I love is when the ball’s up, he is a dog. And he has a great feel, great instincts for where he needs to be. Anybody who’s played basketball understands that rebounding is about instincts off the rim, and where the body positioning needs to be. He’s got that. The hands are extremely strong.”

Zierlein is also a radio host in Houston, and he recalled when the Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins, who was a big receiver coming out of Clemson that didn’t wow scouts with his straight-line speed. But he was very physical and dominated when it came to contested catches.

“Those are special players who are going to carve out the catch space. You’re not going to beat him in that space, and (Odunze is) one of those guys,” Zierlein said.

Zierlein sees a lot of a Hall of Famer in Odunze’s game.

“My comp on him is Larry Fitzgerald because I see so much of his game I think could end up developing,” he said. “He’s gonna run into 4.4s. I think his game could truly develop into a Larry Fitzgerald-type of game.”

Listen to Bump and Stacy’s full conversation with Lance Zierlein at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

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