Prospect Profile: Michael Penix Jr.

At this point, it’s starting to become extremely clear who we should be expecting to see as the first player and quarterback taken in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft next month. We also know UNC quarterback Drake Maye is fighting off LSU Heisman winner Jayden Daniels as QB2 of the draft and that Michigan national champion J.J. McCarthy and Oregon’s Bo Nix are enjoying their own late surges towards the first round. One other quarterback seems to polarize more than the rest, as Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. continues to work to prove himself as a top football player.

As a three-star recruit out of Tampa Bay Tech HS (Florida), Penix struggled to stand out in the talent-laden state of Florida. He quickly picked up local offers from Group of 5 schools like USF and FAU before attending a camp at Tennessee and earning his first Power 5 offer. 10 months later, after receiving only a few other offers, Penix committed to the Volunteers. After the school’s firing of Butch Jones, the head coach to whom he had committed, Penix decommitted, taking the week before an early National Signing Day to consider his options before ultimately signing to attend Indiana.

Penix would redshirt his freshman year with the Hoosiers, appearing in only three games before tearing his ACL. After returning from his injury, Penix entered his redshirt freshman year as the starter, winning the job over incumbent quarterback Peyton Ramsey. In six starts, Penix led the Hoosiers to a 5-1 start to the season while completing 68.8 percent of his pass attempts for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. He also added 119 yards on the ground for two touchdowns. Unfortunately, Penix’s season ended there after a sternoclavicular joint sprain and clavicle fracture on his non-throwing, right shoulder would keep him out for the remainder of the season.

Penix would return in 2020 as the starter once again and once again lead the team to a 5-1 start. His completion percentage suffered as the team leaned more heavily on his arm, but he would increase his production to 1,645 passing yards and 14 touchdowns before suffering a second torn ACL to end his third season. In his final year as the Indiana starter, Penix looked like a shell of his former self. The Hoosiers started the season 2-3 as Penix threw for 939 yards, four touchdowns, and seven interceptions in five starts while only completing 53.7 percent of his passes. His time in Bloomington ended, once again, with his fourth season-ending injury, this one a dislocated joint in his throwing shoulder.

Instead of laying down to watch his football career die, Penix opted to hop into the transfer portal. Thanks to his utilized redshirt and the extra year of eligibility granted to players in school during the 2020 COVID-19 impacted season, the lefty passer still had two years of eligibility left, and finally, in Seattle, Penix was offered the opportunity to play for a contender. Penix became the starter at Washington and immediately led the Huskies to a winning season following their 4-8 2021 campaign.

At Washington, Penix rediscovered his accuracy, completing just over 65 percent of his passes in both years with the team. During the team’s 2022 campaign, Penix led the country in passing yards per game en route to becoming the school’s all-time single-season passing leader with 4,641 yards while scoring 31 touchdowns through the air and four more on the ground. He followed that up with a 14-1 season that would take Washington to the National Championship game, ultimately falling to McCarthy’s Wolverines. Still, in 2023, Penix broke his own single-season record with 4,903 passing yards (thanks to two extra games) and passed for 36 touchdowns while rushing for three more. He led the FBS in passing yards, but even with his extra games, he also led the country in passing yards per game for the second season in a row.

Now, finally out of eligibility, Penix is ready to head to the NFL following a successful college career. He brings an aggressive approach to the passing game with an ability to deliver quick strikes and throw competitive balls downfield for his receivers to win. He doesn’t lack confidence, showing a willingness to make every throw at every level of the field but could still stand to improve in some of those areas, namely intermediate passes across the middle of the field. This can lead to a few missed passes and, while he did post impressive completion percentages, ranking 28th in the country at 65.4 in 2023, his fellow draft candidates, USC’s Caleb Williams (12th at 68.6), Daniels (seventh at 72.2), McCarthy (sixth at 72.3), and Nix (first at 77.4), all showed better accuracy this past year.

Other nitpicks on Penix revolve around inconsistent mechanics and an inability to sense pressure (perhaps a symptom of left-handedness in a right-hander’s game), but the biggest areas of concern surround his health. Before transferring, Penix suffered four season-ending injuries in as many years. Many placed the utmost importance on his medical evaluations at the NFL scouting combine, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network delivered the good news that his medical testing “went well,” claiming that “any medical questions that Penix had seem to be kind of pushed a little back under the radar.”

With that, let the speculation begin. The claims of Penix’s polarization come from the fact that mock drafts place him anywhere from No. 8 overall to the second and third round. Both ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Dane Brugler of The Athletic rank Penix as the draft’s sixth-best passing prospect, following the five mentioned above. Both pundits also have him slipping into the second round of the draft, with both citing injuries as a main concern. Perhaps, they believe that his combine clearance was more sweeping his injury potential under the rug than declaring it a non-issue.

Still, it only takes one front office to disagree. The consensus seems to be that Penix has first-round potential in his game, but he has to stay on the field in order to show it. If any team sees his 28 straight healthy games at Washington and feels confident about his health, or if any team feels confident in their offensive line’s ability to keep Penix on the field, there’s absolutely a possibility that we hear his name called on Day 1 of the draft, especially if we see a run on quarterbacks early. If not, there are several teams with temporary or non-cemented options at quarterback that could easily take a flyer on Penix in the second round.

The Bears, Commanders, Patriots, and Broncos have been seen as teams obviously looking to select a passer in the first round, but the Giants, Vikings, and Raiders could also be tempted. New York has never showed much commitment to Daniel Jones and could be interested in drafting his heir apparent. The Vikings brought in Sam Darnold, who has never spent a full season as a starter, so they may be interested in a young passer to mold. Las Vegas brought in Gardner Minshew to compete with Aidan O’Connell but may be interested in a passer with more potential upside. Also keep an eye on teams like the Seahawks and Rams, who have aging veterans and may want to bring in a rookie to compete with their other young, developing backups.

There’s no limit of possibilities for where we may see Penix go in late-April. He may be the league’s first left-handed quarterback taken in the first round since Tua Tagovailoa, or he could free fall into the second or third round. There are plenty more mock drafts to come between now and then around the internet, so keep an eye on the consistent rise and fall of Penix’s draft stock in the weeks between now and the draft.

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