Stunner! UW Huskies’ Michael Penix Jr. drafted No. 8 by Atlanta

Apr 25, 2024, 6:08 PM | Updated: Apr 26, 2024, 4:03 pm

UW Huskies Sugar Bowl Michael Penix Jr....

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. and teammates celebrate their CFP semifinal Sugar Bowl win. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

UW Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was one of the most polarizing prospects leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft.

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Some draft analysts focused on Penix’s tantalizing arm talent and immense production the past two seasons at Washington. Others worried about his medical history, given the four season-ending injuries he suffered earlier in his career at Indiana.

After months of debate and wide-ranging opinions, the Washington star quarterback ended up cracking the top 10.

In the most stunning move of the entire first round, the Atlanta Falcons selected Penix with the No. 8 overall pick of the draft Thursday night.

Penix, the reigning Heisman Trophy runner-up, was the fourth quarterback off the board in one of the most loaded QB drafts in recent history. The Chicago Bears drafted USC QB Caleb Williams at No. 1, the Washington Commanders took LSU QB Jayden Daniels at No. 2 and the New England Patriots picked North Carolina QB Drake May at No. 3.

Reaction: Why did Atlanta Falcons take Penix when they have Kirk Cousins?

Most expected Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy to be the fourth quarterback selected, but Penix leapfrogged him. McCarthy ended up going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 10.

Penix is just the second QB in UW history to be drafted in the first round. The other was Jake Locker, who was also picked No. 8 in the 2011.

Penix was the first of three Huskies selected in the top 20 picks. His top target at UW, wide receiver Rome Odunze, went to the Chicago Bears just one pick later at No. 9 overall. Offensive lineman Troy Fautanu was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20, giving the Dawgs three first-rounders in the same draft for the second time ever.

Penix and Odunze are the second pair of UW players to be top-10 picks in the same draft. The only other instance came in 1941, when Rudy Mucha and Dean McAdams both went in the top 10.

Penix joins an Atlanta franchise that signed 35-year-old veteran QB Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract in March. Cousins is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury last year. The Falcons have had six consecutive losing seasons, including three straight 7-10 campaigns.

Penix threw for 9,544 yards and 67 touchdowns during a record-setting two-year run at UW, leading the nation in passing yards per game each of the past two seasons. The 23-year-old left-handed QB went 25-3 as a starter over that stretch, including 14-1 last fall while leading the Huskies to the College Football Playoff national championship game.

This past season, Penix completed 65.4% of his passes and threw for a school-record 4,903 yards, 36 TDs and 11 interceptions in UW’s high-flying attack. That broke his own school record of 4,641 passing yards that he set in 2022. Penix’s second-place Heisman finish in December was the best in UW program history. He also won the Maxwell Award, given to the best player in college football.

Penix had a sensational performance in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, completing 29 of 38 passes for 430 yards, two TDs and no interceptions in the Huskies’ 37-31 CFP semifinal win over Texas. He topped the 400-yard passing mark six times at UW, including a career-high 516 yards against Arizona in 2022.

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Penix transferred to UW in December 2021 after an injury-marred four seasons at Indiana. The Tampa, Fla., native twice tore his right ACL and suffered injuries to both shoulders during his time with the Hoosiers.

For some scouts, Penix’s age and injury history were question marks throughout the draft process. However, his medical exams from the combine reportedly came back clean. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Penix didn’t miss a practice, workout or game in his two seasons at UW, where he helped transform a program that was coming off a dismal 4-8 season prior to his arrival.

Penix was known at UW for his picturesque deep balls and elite downfield passing ability. He made what Pro Football Focus defined as 43 “big-time throws” last season, which was eight more than any other QB in the nation. Penix also managed a 65% completion rate in his two seasons with the Huskies despite the downfield nature of UW’s passing attack.

Some scouts questioned Penix’s athleticism and mobility, given that he did most of his damage from the pocket and rushed for just 100 yards in two seasons with the Huskies. However, Penix attempted to dispel those doubts with an impressive performance at UW’s pro day last month. He ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range and posted a vertical jump of 36 1/2 inches.

Penix steadily began to move up mock drafts in the weeks following his pro day. And when the real deal took place Thursday night, he moved all the way into the top 10.

More on NFL Draft pick Michael Penix Jr.

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Stunner! UW Huskies’ Michael Penix Jr. drafted No. 8 by Atlanta