What is Michael Penix Jr.’s NFL Draft ceiling?

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Michael Penix Jr.’s most recent masterclass of a performance was the catalyst for Washington’s win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. It also could help him with the next chapter of his football career.

The Washington star is viewed as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft. But prior to Monday’s game, the consensus among draft evaluators seemed to be that Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels were all better quarterback prospects than Penix, who doesn’t have any college eligibility left after the national title game. 

Penix certainly made a strong case, though, to join that group in the semifinal win, throwing for 430 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 31 yards as part of a 37-31 victory. 

While Penix’s performance on Monday might have been a revelation for some, FOX Sports’ lead college football analyst Joel Klatt has been high on the quarterback’s draft prospects throughout the season. 

“Michael Penix is an elite quarterback,” Klatt said on “The Herd.” “I think he should be drafted in the top five, no doubt. The knee injuries will scare people off, and he might fall, but I don’t think he gets past 10. What you see is directly comparable to what he needs to do at the National Football League level.”

When should Penix Jr. be drafted?

When should Penix Jr. be drafted?

Klatt described Penix’s game as “calm” as he shared what the lefty does differently compared to his counterparts. 

“Even when he’s not ready to throw, he manipulates the pocket with ease to get himself in position to make throws,” Klatt said. “There is a huge difference between guys who throw the football well and guys who pass the football well. Michael Penix is a passer. The difference is, he understands leverage. Understanding leverage, you take a guy that’s accurate with the football and when you watch all of these plays, the ball is always away from the defense.

“He’s always allowing his player an opportunity to make a play. He’s always putting the odds in the wide receiver’s favor. It’s not a 50/50 ball. It’s a 60/40 ball, at worst. It’s a 70/30 ball. It’s a 90/10 ball. Why? Because he understands leverage.”

Penix’s ability to, as Klatt puts it, understand leverage and manipulate the pocket turned him into one of the best passers in college in the last two seasons. He threw for 4,641 yards in his first season at Washington last year, before throwing for a nation-best 4,648 yards to go with 35 passing touchdowns and just nine interceptions this season, leading the Huskies to go undefeated. 

Despite the strong numbers, Penix didn’t receive the Heisman. Klatt, who voted for Penix, took exception to some of the narratives surrounding the Heisman voting this season as he made a bold claim about Penix’s NFL potential. 

“I think he upgrades 13 NFL teams next week,” Klatt said of Penix. “If I was drafting next spring, I would really look at this guy. This whole narrative, and you know who you are if you pushed this, that the Heisman [voting] was done before the conference championship games and it wasn’t a conversation with Jayden Daniels and Michael Penix, you should be ashamed of yourself. It just means that you didn’t watch Washington football.”

Why Michael Penix Jr. is worth the risk

Why Michael Penix Jr. is worth the risk

FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd concurred with Klatt’s overall sentiments about Penix and how he rates a prospect. As he mentioned that 13 of the 14 teams currently in the playoff picture have a star quarterback or an offensive-minded head coach, he believes that at least five quarterbacks (Williams, Maye, Daniels, Penix and Bo Nix) should be selected within the first 12 picks of the draft. 

“When I see people say, ‘Bo Nix, second round. Michael Penix could drop.’ Really? The only position in football worth more than a point is quarterback,” Cowherd said. “Lamar Jackson, the MVP, from data over the last several years looks like he’s worth 11 points per game.”

There are a couple of non-performance-related factors that could hurt Penix’s status come draft time. He’s relatively older than most quarterback prospects, turning 24 before the start of the 2024 NFL season. He’s also dealt with a slew of injuries. He tore his ACL in 2018 and again in 2020. He also suffered season-ending shoulder injuries in both the 2019 and 2021 seasons.

But Cowherd believes that shouldn’t deter anyone from selecting Penix. 

“‘Well, the injuries.’ Why do I care? Life’s full of risks,” Cowherd said. “Spoils to the victors. Aggressive people win in every sport. … You don’t draft for a fear of the floor. You draft because of ceiling. You draft for ceiling. Joe Burrow has had multiple season-ending injuries. Do you think Cincinnati regrets drafting him? You really do? Tua [Tagovailoa], college and pro, has had multiple injuries. You think Miami regrets drafting him? Lamar Jackson’s going to win MVP. Last two years, he couldn’t finish the season. You think Baltimore regrets drafting Lamar Jackson? 

“You draft for Tua, Burrow and Jackson’s ceiling. You don’t draft, or do any business, for fear of the floor. That makes no sense. Sky’s the limit. That’s what you draft.”

Sugar Bowl: Michael Penix Jr. fuels Washington’s dramatic victory over Texas

Sugar Bowl: Michael Penix Jr. fuels Washington's dramatic victory over Texas

Penix has remained healthy over his two seasons at Washington, failing to miss a game. Even if Penix gets hurt in the NFL, Cowherd thinks the upside is too good to pass on.

“Guys get hurt,” Cowherd said. “It’s like the stock market. I have bad years in the stock market. I’m not getting out of it. Michael Penix may get injured. Tua has, Burrow has, Lamar has — you’re getting out of that business?”

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