Caple: A few thoughts on UW Huskies’ big 1st round in NFL Draft

Apr 26, 2024, 12:00 PM | Updated: 4:01 pm

UW Huskies NFL Draft Rome Odunze Chicago Bears...

Rome Odunze poses after being selected ninth overall by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Draft. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The 2023 NFL Draft ended with zero UW Huskies selected, the first such occurrence since 2009. Difference was, the 2009 draft followed an 0-12 season, and the 2023 draft followed an 11-2 year in which each of UW’s draft-eligible underclassmen chose to return to school for another season.

In other words, you could have predicted a year ago that the 2024 draft would be a special one for the Huskies.

WA NFL Draft Tracker: UW Huskies, WSU and local picks

Day 1 lived up to that expectation, with the Atlanta Falcons shocking everyone by taking Michael Penix Jr. with the No. 8 pick, followed immediately by the Chicago Bears shocking nobody by taking Rome Odunze at No. 9. Eleven picks later, the Pittsburgh Steelers snagged Troy Fautanu at No. 20 to give the Huskies three first-rounders for just the second time in school history.

Before the draft continues Friday afternoon, some thoughts on Washington’s big first round:

1. At his Pro Day, Penix mentioned the Falcons among the teams with which he had scheduled visits or workouts in the coming days. But I’m not sure anyone really entertained the idea that Atlanta might use its first-round pick on Penix, considering they just signed Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million deal with $100 million guaranteed. Of course, you’ve likely seen the reports by now that Cousins was stunned by the pick, and the reaction from Falcons fans has been … not great. Immediate draft grades haven’t been particularly kind to the Falcons, either, considering Penix’s age (he turns 24 next month), injury history and the Cousins contract.

2. Falcons general manager Terry Fontent explained it this way, via CBS Sports: “If you believe in a quarterback, you have to take him. And if he sits for four or five years, that’s a great problem to have because we’re doing so well at that position. So, it’s as simple as, if you see a guy you believe in at that position, you have to take him.”

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

3. Four or five years? Hmm. Cousins turns 36 in August. Perhaps Atlanta is banking on him retiring sooner rather than later. New Falcons coach Raheem Morris explained that the franchise believes Cousins will help them win at a high level, and as a result, they might not have a high draft pick to use on a quarterback of Penix’s caliber down the road. They see it as a pick for the future.

4. Considering UW’s past run of quarterbacks lasting in the NFL, you might be surprised to learn that Penix is only the Huskies’ second first-round QB. The first was Jake Locker, who was also drafted No. 8 overall in 2011, by the Tennessee Titans.

5. Somewhat similarly, Odunze is only the third UW receiver to be taken in the first round. All three of them — the others were Reggie Williams in 2004 and John Ross in 2017 — were picked No. 9.

6. Washington’s trio of first-rounders tied the school record, set in 2015 — but if you want to get real specific, this is the first time three UW players ever have been drafted in the top-20. It was also the first time since 1941 that the Huskies had two top-10 picks. That year, center Rudy Macha went No. 4 overall to the Cleveland Rams, and halfback Dean McAdams went No. 8 to the Brooklyn Dodgers. And it would make my day to hear from any subscribers who watched either of those guys play.

7. The 1940 Huskies, by the way, finished 7-2 under coach Jimmy Phelan, losing their opener at Minnesota, 19-14, and losing 20-10 at Stanford. Minnesota finished unbeaten and ranked No. 1 by the AP; Stanford finished unbeaten and ranked No. 2. Both teams claim national championships for that year. The Huskies outscored their opponents 145-15 in their seven victories, winning five of them by shutout.

8. There was some thought, pre-draft, that Odunze might be in play for the New York Giants at No. 6, though the most frequently mocked scenario was exactly what happened. I think that’s great news for Odunze, who will arrive in Chicago along with No. 1 pick Caleb Williams, and will team with Keenan Allen and DJ Moore to form a talented receiver trio. The Giants instead took LSU star Malik Nabers, leaving Odunze as the third receiver drafted.

9. Fautanu fell just a bit from most pre-draft projections — many of which had the Seahawks taking him at No. 16 — but still became Washington’s first first-round offensive lineman since Kaleb McGary in 2019. In Pittsburgh, he becomes part of the Steelers’ concerted effort to rebuild their offensive line. Last year, they used a first-round pick on tackle Broderick Jones, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says they see Fautanu as a tackle, too. There was a lot of speculation that he might be a guard at the next level.

10. Much has been written about the Pac-12 departing this world with one of its best football seasons in memory, and the draft results matched what you saw on the field, as the league put forth eight first-rounders, just shy of its record nine in 2015. Half of those eight spent at least part of their career at UW — the aforementioned trio, plus UCLA’s Laiatu Latu, who was the first defensive player picked in this year’s draft, at No. 15.

11. Remember back in 2020, when Zion Tupuola-Fetui broke out with seven sacks in the first three games of UW’s pandemic-shortened season? There is an alternate universe in which ZTF doesn’t even start that season, and the Huskies instead roll with a pair of first-round edge rushers — Latu and Joe Tryon. Instead, Tryon opted out of the pandemic season, and Latu suffered a neck injury during training camp that year (in October) that prevented him from playing at UW again. Of course, he resurfaced at UCLA, was cleared to continue playing, became an All-American and now is a first-rounder.

12. Another Pac-12 selection: Arizona offensive lineman Jordan Morgan, at No. 25, a big part of UW coach Jedd Fisch’s offense in Tucson last season.

13. I’ll be surprised if Day 2 — the second and third rounds — ends without Roger Rosengarten, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan coming off the board, and Bralen Trice has a chance to go, too.

14. UW’s seven-round record for most players selected in a single draft is 10, in 1988. The Huskies had 13 players invited to this year’s scouting combine. It’s within reach.

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