Falcons Shock With #8 Draft Pick of Quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

The Atlanta Falcons created some excitement with their first-round draft pick, but it may not have been the kind they were looking for.

The team surprised nearly everyone by picking Washington University’s Michael Penix Jr. for their number eight draft pick. The first drafting of a quarterback for the Falcons since the just-retired Matt Ryan (2008). Penix Jr. joins Ryan, Michael Vick (2001), Brett Farve (1991), and Steve Bartkowski (1975) as Falcon quarterbacks who came to the team by way of the draft.

Many observers thought such a pick in the first round was unlikely for the Falcons, with so much competition for coveted quarterbacks in the top five, and Atlanta’s need for stronger defense necessitating a defensive pick, like Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, who many thought the Falcons would pick. He would go instead to the Minneapolis Vikings.

The Athletic’s senior NFL writer Dianna Russini tweeted after the pick that the Falcons called starting QB Kirk Cousins while the team was on the clock to tell him of the decision to select Phenix Jr. Russini said Cousins was “a bit stunned” because he did not expect a QB to be picked in the first round, although he knew one would be “considered.”

Now, Cousins, the newly hired starting quarterback, will have a backup QB to work with going forward. Any improvements to the Falcons’ neglected defensive line will have to come with their remaining seven draft picks, to be announced over the next two nights.

Penix Jr. brings a lot to the table for the Falcons, however. The 6’3″, 213 lb 23-year-old played 48 total games in his career at two schools, Indiana and, most recently, Washington. He has a 37-8 total record, with 1,067 completions out of 1,685 pass attempts. He has 96 career touchdown passes, and 265 rushing yards. He has 13 rushing touchdowns to his career credit.

Penix Jr. won the Maxwell Award in 2023, was an Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year in 2022, and a first-team All-American in that same year. He lead the 2023 Washington Huskies to this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship after an undefeated regular season.

Penix Jr told the press after the selection he was ready and hyped to join his new team.

“I can’t wait to join the organization and make an impact,” he said.

The reaction to the Falcon’s selection of Penix Jr. at #8 was immediate and hot. Many on social media were stunned and flabbergasted that the Falcons made such a pick when there were more immediate needs in defense that needed to be filled.

After the draft, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Raheem Morris met with the press at Flowery Branch. They defended the pick as a nod to the future of the team and that Penix Jr. was simply too good to pass up at a time when good quarterbacks are hard to get.

“When you can add a high caliber player like that, with his intangibles, you don’t pass up that opportunity,” said Fontenot. He added that the Falcons don’t expect to return to a lofty draft position like the last few years with Cousins as the lead passer.

They also said that Cousins remains their starting quarterback, and they hoped Penix Jr. can learn from and grow under Cousins.

They would not elaborate on reports Cousins was caught off guard by the pick tonight.

The first-round selection of Penix Jr. is the first of the eight draft picks for the Falcons.  The second round is tomorrow night.

Social media post credits: Atlanta Falcons/NFL/X