Falcons Draft QB Michael Penix Jr. With No. 8 Pick

The first major surprise of the 2024 draft has arrived. With the eighth overall pick, the Falcons have drafted Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

This surprises on a number of levels, with Penix being ranked as the fifth- or sixth-best quarterback in the draft and after Atlanta signed Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180MM deal. But a Penix-to-Atlanta scenario emerged on the radar earlier this week. Still, this qualifies as a shock for an NFC South team that could have bolstered a now-Cousins-dependent roster with a best-player-available-type pick.

Still, Penix is a strong addition to the roster at No. 8 overall. Penix led the country in passing yards per game en route to becoming the Huskies’ all-time single-season passing leader with 4,641 yards while scoring 31 touchdowns through the air and four more on the ground in 2022. He followed that up with a 14-1 season that would take Washington to the National Championship game. 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.

This is one of the big shocks of the draft because many teams didn’t even have a first-round value on Penix. 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.

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. Unfortunately, Penix’s season early after a sternoclavicular joint sprain and clavicle fracture on his non-throwing, right shoulder would keep him out for the back half of the season. Penix would return in 2020 as the starter once again before suffering a second torn ACL to end his third season. 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.

The Falcons have decided to look past his extensive injury in favor of his 28 straight healthy games in Seattle. They also decided to look past the fact that he is about to turn 24 years old after six years in college.

The second shock of the situation comes from the fact that Cousins is set to run the Atlanta quarterbacks room for the next few years. Or, at least, it would appear that way. The Falcons gave the soon-to-be 36-year-old passer a $100MM practical guarantee, effectively tying the former Washington and Minnesota passer to the team through 2026. Other than the Packers, teams do not make a habit of extended QB developmental programs. The Falcons did not alert Cousins this pick was coming, per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, setting up an interesting dynamic in their QB room to start the Raheem Morris era.

Atlanta dedicated significant cap space to acquiring Cousins just weeks before drafting his heir apparent in Penix. This will give Penix a good amount of time to grow and learn behind a veteran, a la Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, but it seems like a wild swing to utilize such a high draft pick on a quarterback who was expected to be around a bit longer.

Also of note with the selection of Penix is that this now marks the first time since at least 1970 that no defensive players have been selected in the first eight picks. The closest was in 2021, when Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn was selected eighth overall.

Ely Allen contributed to this post.

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