Michael Penix Jr. Was the Biggest Shock of the NFL Draft. We Spoke With Him.

Atlanta snagged the Heisman finalist with the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday night

Michael Penix Jr. reacts after the beating Utah Utes.
Michael Penix Jr. got his official call to the NFL on Thursday night in Detroit.
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Michael Penix Jr. was limited to just 21 games but able to extend his NCAA eligibility after suffering four season-ending injuries during his four years playing quarterback at Indiana. He then transferred to Washington and played 28 games during two seasons for the Huskies, including the CFP National Championship Game against No. 1-ranked Michigan. Though the game was a loss for Washington, it was still a win for Penix, as he got more exposure to a national audience and reminded football fans about his near-flawless performance in the CFP semifinal game against Texas.

Aware of the concerns about his injury history, despite putting almost 2,000 plays on tape since being sidelined in the 2021 season, Penix sent an open letter to NFL general managers on The Players’ Tribune in the lead-up to last night’s draft. Though the note was delivered digitally, the lanky lefty likely wrote the rough draft with his custom-made Sharpie S-Gel pen, the same writing instrument he’ll use to sign his first NFL contract. “I’ll be using that pen to sign all my contracts,” Penix tells InsideHook. “Obviously, I got the big one coming up soon. I’m super excited for it.”

As we now know after last night, the soon-to-be 24-year-old will be inking that contract, a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth, with the Falcons, despite some seeing the pair as an odd fit because Atlanta gave veteran QB Kirk Cousins $100 million in guaranteed money this offseason. “I always feel like everything is meant to be,” Penix says. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m excited and I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity that’s been presented to me. I know it’ll be special and I’ll be able to do something special with it.”

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For fans of Falcons who might not be too familiar with the No. 8 overall pick or his game, Penix is more than ready to introduce himself. “First of all, you’re getting a winner,” Penix says. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been able to win no matter the situation before I got there. I feel that will translate to the next level and is something everybody looks for. I know fans want a winner. That’s what you’re going to get out of me. You’re getting a guy who’s hardworking and determined to find success.”

Though he didn’t win a national championship in college, Penix was determined enough that he returned to Washington for his senior season when he easily could have declared for the 2023 draft. “Going into the ’22 season, I had a lot of goals I wanted to achieve with my team, and we fell short of them,” he says. “I knew if I came back, I’d have the opportunity to fix that and the chance to show I could stay healthy for another year. I bet on myself and it helped me become a better player and a better person. We won the Pac-12, but we didn’t get the national championship. I guess I’m going to have to get the big championship at the next level.”

In addition to Penix, a number of other former Huskies will be NFL rookies next season, including wideouts Rome Odunze (who was drafted by the Bears at No. 9 overall on Thursday) and Ja’Lynn Polk (who will probably hear his name called on Friday). Penix is glad he’ll see some of his former teammates in the NFL — and he’ll be happy to face them too. “Whenever I play anyone who was on the defensive side of the ball at UW in the NFL, they’ll know what they’re going to get,” he says. “I’m not going to say I won everywhere, but I showed them in practice that they’re going to have to come with it. I’m super excited for everybody on my team who will have the opportunity to play at the next level. It’s something we all dreamed of since we were kids.”

A team captain at Washington, Penix feels he’s ready to lead in the NFL as a franchise quarterback. “I played in a lot of big-time games throughout my career that I feel will contribute to all the success I have at the next level. It’s just natural progression. I’m excited and I’m going to be ready to go make plays. It’s a blessing to be able to do all these things. It’s a dream come true for me, but it’s still football at the end of the day.”

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