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  • Writer's picturekevinlaffey

No Fears Through Lost Years: A Michael Penix Jr Piece

Updated: Jan 24

Michael Penix Jr spinning an American Football

A Michael Penix Jr. Short Story

Michael Penix Jr. battled with monsters so much that it turned him into one; going from multiple-time medical redshirt, to transfer portal, to Maxwell award winner doesn’t happen often...or ever.

But Penix Jr. may very well just be what happens when timing meets circumstance.


Let’s rewind, quickly.


The year is 2021, the world is in the middle of a pandemic, classes are being taken through video calls, food delivery is at an all-time high, and QB Dylan Morris had a season to forget for the Washington Huskies, leaving much desired after going 4-8.


Enter Michael Penix Jr. – Our big-armed electric quarterback was looking for horizons beyond the University of Indiana, and the picturesque Pacific Northwest horizons he found helped shock college football, when Penix Jr. reunited with ex-Hoosiers OC and Huskies Top Dawg Kalen DeBoer.

These dominoes of fate coalesced with Penix leading the nation in passing yards (4,354*) in 2022, while flying up mock draft boards and sending Washington to an 11-2 record and an Alamo Bowl win over the Texas Longhorns.

Michael Penix Jr hyped after scoring a touchdown in the 2023 PAC-12 Championship game

Fast forward to 2024. Washington’s offensive line allows a nation-leading 11 sacks (no small due going to Penix’s Bugatti-like handling in the pocket), the Huskies house three NFL-ready wide receivers including Rome Odunze being locked in for a top 15 selection, and Penix Jr. is doing what Penix Jr. does: ball out. He led the nation in passing yards (4,218*) for a second consecutive year, and his style – although a wild thing to watch sometimes – is proving massively effective. 

Sure, a Michigan Wolverines squad under tremendous scrutiny and pressure handled them in the trenches, ran all over them, and made Penix’s night a living hell for the most part. And sure, Penix missed some throws last night to Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk that, in every single other situation this season, he’s made.


Michael Penix Jr high fiving a young fan while walking into the tunnel after a win

So what now? Penix Jr. rose from perennial medical redshirt (four season-ending injuries in his four years at Indiana, including two torn ACLs in his right leg and a throwing shoulder injury) to perennial passing leader in all of college football. And in many other past drafts, is probably a top 3 QB prospect – here lies the issue surrounding Penix Jr.

He’s evaded injury to the tune of zero missed games in both years behind that phenomenal Joe Moore-award winning line, and was able to look as great as he did with as much help on the outside as possible in college (Odunze, Polk, Jalen McMillan).

But, he just so happens to be in a draft with a generational prospect in Caleb Williams, a prototype in Drake Maye who forces you to pay recent mind to Justin Herbert, and a Cam Newton-esque final year rise, Heisman-winning season out of the SEC in Jayden Daniels. The waters for Penix Jr.’s top 5 pick chances have been muddied. 

While there are answers for a lot of the remedial questions the masses may have, there are also larger looming questions:


1.  He will be 23 by draft time with multiple major injuries; can he fit the timeline of a true rebuild?


To me, surrounding personnel and coaching matters more than a prospect being a year or two older than a typical 3-4 year college quarterback. It can be seen as a legitimate concern for some, as they may reference guys like Jaren Hall (Minnesota Vikings) or Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers) to point to players who churned out elite final years during a prolonged college stay. I can’t tell you you’re wrong. 

And I can’t tell you to not take note of the injuries that made him stay so long. But surely, you’d have to ask yourself the same questions about Jayden Daniels and Bo Nix as well, as those two will be 23 and 24 at draft time. The same as Cincinnati Bengal Joe Burrow, now a consensus top three quarterback in the NFL.

“Old” isn’t really all that old.


2.  Did his offensive line and WR room inflate his draft stock?


I’ve heard this one more than once in recent weeks. “Rome Odunze is a top 3 receiver in this draft,” “Huskies line only gave up 11 sacks until the CFB Playoffs.” It’s fine, I hear you, and you’re right… to an extent. But what if I told you that I believe sacks taken is a QB stat, and that he took the least of any QB in the country, despite playing every game (which is a plus mark for his health)? And that there were ~3,000 Penix Jr. passing yards that were not Odunze’s

Mike Evans surely helped Tom Brady win a ring in Tampa Bay, but you’re mistaken if you don’t believe Brady was the central cog to that machine. Penix was the same type of engine for Washington the last two seasons. 


3.  But Kev, his release could prove dangerous for the next level, can he still succeed?


Listen, you’re right. Michigan just made him look highly pedestrian. The pressure the Michigan front was able to supply turned out to be too much for the top offensive line in the country. The Wolverines got home to Penix and hit him more than he has been all season, which was obvious as he hobbled to the sideline between his second interception of the night and Blake Corum driving the game’s nail into Washington’s coffin. 

His release is very schoolyard-esque. Across the league’s landscape, the QB’s who’ve been able to carve their name into the identity of their franchise had the ability to make throws from all angles. Pressure will happen; it’s the NFL and monsters like Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons exist in this world. But Penix has surely shown enough to prove his efficacy when given the time to spot it.

It can be seen as a real concern, and Michigan glared that red flag to GMs across the NFL Monday night.


"Which GMs", you might ask?


There’s a plethora of teams that can use the services of a budding prospect at the helm, some of which had QB stability for years and fell back into the sweepstakes, some who can’t seem to find their answer, and some that will look to replace their guy in the coming years.


The Seattle Seahawks are on the clock at the NFL Draft

·  Seattle Seahawks

First on the list but my least favorite choice. I don’t think Seattle is necessarily hunting a QB down given the kind of talent that may be there at pick 16, with the top of the draft expected to be offensive skill position heavy. But a plan needs to be put in place, as I don’t see them riding Geno Smith into retirement, and now with news of head coach Pete Carroll not returning, it could be a situation of new coach/new QB.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the clock at the NFL Draft

·  Pittsburgh Steelers

The Left-Handed Launcher and the Wild Child Out Wide together in the city of steel? Penix would provide a dynamic element to that offense that could only benefit the likes of Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, and more importantly Pat Freiermuth and George Pickens. Mike Tomlin has a history of reeling in electric players and personalities; Big Ben, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster to name a few.

Ships need anchors, diamonds need pressure, and Mike Tomlin’s newest wild child needs Michael Penix Jr. to give him hope that Steelers’ brass aren’t here to waste his self-proclaimed “video game” abilities.

The Minnesota Vikings are on the clock at the NFL Draft

·  Minnesota Vikings

Kirk Cousins is nearing the end of his limelight up north in Minnesota, and coming off a torn Achilles will be no small task. The positives? Minnesota reportedly got aggressive around the 2023 draft for UF’s Anthony Richardson, so we could see them try to get aggressive to find a direct heir to Kirk Cousins, one that, like Pickens but magnetized by 5000x, is hopefully enticing enough to get Justin Jefferson to sign for another five years.

The Las Vegas Raiders are on the clock at the 2018 NFL Draft

·  Las Vegas Raiders

Unlike the other teams listed here, chances are Penix would be thrust directly into a starting role immediately without much debate. The Raiders are in dire need of a savior after a decade of mediocre success under Derek Carr, plus the circus that will go down as the Raiders 2023 season. A Davante Adams move looms large, Josh Jacobs as well.

Penix Jr. works here for both reasons; he’s 23, so if you want to clean house and full rebuild, he’s a talent that will draw eyes, or if you want to refurbish and try to push for a wild card spot in 2024-25, he could potentially aid a talented roster as well.

And last, but absolutely not least…

The Atlanta Falcons are on the clock at the 2018 NFL Draft

·  Atlanta Falcons

In my most humble of opinions, Atlanta is THE landing spot for a QB in this draft. Outfitted with a great secondary and solid defense as a whole on the backside of the ball, they’re even more equipped on offense. 

An offensive line that supported two stud rookie running back seasons in a row, mutants at all three skill spots (Bijan Robinson, Drake London, Kyle Pitts), and now will need a new identity for an offense that did all but perform up to expectations under Arthur Smith. 

This is a win-win scenario. Atlanta can sit at the 8th pick and take the best player available, which I believe should be creating the newest first-year coach/QB duo to hit the market with Mr. Penix Jr., hopefully giving a jolt to this young offense whose most important pieces have two years of rookie contracts/options left. The Falcons also wield money to spend on win-now pieces. 



Do you think Penix Jr. has done enough the last two years to cement himself as a first-round selection in 2024? 



(*) Statistics excluding College Football Playoffs

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