Patriots draft profile: Michael Penix Jr. might be the best pure thrower in the draft - Sport News

Patriots draft profile: Michael Penix Jr. might be the best pure thrower in the draft

The New England Patriots have a huge decision to make in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. Owners of the third overall pick, they could either select one of the top quarterbacks available to fill the biggest need on their roster, or trade the selection to significantly boost their future capital.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. highlights AP midseason All-America team  loaded with experience - The San Diego Union-Tribune

Even if they go the second route, the Patriots drafting a quarterback at one point next month has to be expected; they will not enter the season with Jacoby Brissett, Bailey Zappe and Nathan Rourke competing for the starting gig. If they look beyond the consensus four marquee options — Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, J.J. McCarthy — Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. stands out as one of the most intriguing players.

Hard facts

Name: Michael Penix Jr.

Position: Quarterback

School: Washington

Opening day age: 24 (5/8/2000)

Measurements: 6’2 1/4”, 216 lbs, 81” wingspan, 33 5/8” arm length, 10 1/2” hand size, N/A Relative Athletic Score

Experience

Career statistics: 48 games (45 starts) | 3,071 offensive snaps, 10 special teams snaps | 1,067-of-1,691 (63.1%), 13,727 passing yards, 96 TDs, 34 INTs | 116 carries, 402 rushing yards (2.7 yards/carry), 13 TDs | 31 sacks, 11 fumbles

Accolades: First-team All-American (2023), Maxwell Award (2023), Second-team All-Pac 12 (2022, 2023), AP Comeback Player of the Year (2022), Second-team All-Big Ten (2020)

A two-year starter at Tampa Bay Technical High School, where he threw 61 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 24 starts, Penix Jr. entered the college level as a three-star recruit. He decided to take his talents to Indiana, where he would spend four seasons and repeatedly flash his talents. However, his time as a Hoosier was frequently interrupted by injuries and he ended up starting just 17 total games before transferring to Washington.

Reuniting with his one-time offensive coordinator Kalen De Boer in 2022, Penix Jr. started to turn his career around quickly. Over his two seasons as a Husky, he started all 28 possible games and re-wrote the school’s record books: he completed 725 of his 1,109 pass attempts in those two years, gaining 9,544 yards with 67 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

Penix Jr. also led Washington to a Pac-12 title in his final season, and an appearance in the National Championship Game. In addition, he earned several accolades in 2022 and 2023 — including being named a finalist for college football’s most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy.

Expected round: 1-2 | Consensus big board: No. 38 | Patriots meeting: N/A

Strengths: If you are looking for a quarterback in this year’s draft who can absolutely let the ball fly, Penix Jr. is your man. There is not a throw in the book he won’t be able to execute; he can hit every point on the field without much effort and on a consistent basis. His arm — we are talking about his left one, mind you — might be as good as anybody’s in this class: he has a quick release, throws with velocity, throws with touch, can drive the ball, and is an excellent deep-ball thrower, all despite some mechanical inconsistencies.

When it comes to passing the ball, Penix Jr. has a full toolbox to choose from: he has shown he can make the right throw and use the right level of aggressiveness depending on what the play and/or situation call for. Successful quarterbacking, especially at the NFL level, depends on doing that, and he has shown that he can.

We can sum all of that up as “arm talent,” but Penix Jr.’s game is more than that. He also has shown good anticipation and processing skill. His underrated mobility and sack avoidance as well as his ability to quickly reset his feet are more than adequate, allowing him to make those famed off-script plays that are currently en vogue in the NFL.

A multi-year team captain at both Indiana (2020, 2021) and Washington (2022, 2023), Penix Jr. also has shown he can command a complex offense. The Huskies asked a lot of him, and he performed well with that pressure on his shoulders.

Weaknesses: The pre-draft discourse about Penix Jr. centers primarily around his injury history, and it is a concern. As noted above, he missed significant time during his stint in Indiana: he tore his right ACL in both 2018 and 2020, and additionally suffered injuries to both his shoulders; he dislocated the SC joint in his right/non-throwing shoulder in 2019 and separated the AC joint in his left/throwing shoulder in 2021. Teams clearing him medically will be key.

In addition, he is comparatively old. Turning 24 shortly after the draft, he is more than two years older than fellow draft hopefuls Drake Maye and J.J. McCarthy — meaning that he might be closer to his developmental ceiling compared to other highly-touted QBs available.

Besides those potential concerns, there are also some question marks about his game and its ability to translate to the NFL. Penix Jr. saw his process get sped up by pressure at times, something that was apparent in the National Championship loss to Michigan and also occasionally reared its head at the Senior Bowl. His decision making and feel for the pocket around him are also on/off at times, as are his ball placement on touch throws and accuracy on tight-window passes.

There also is the question how much his supporting cast helped mask deficiencies. Up to five of his offensive teammates at Washington — including his top three wide receivers — might hear their names called within the first two days of the draft.

Patriots preview

What would be his role? Bringing considerable experience to the table and having played in a demanding system already, Penix Jr. might be able to become a Day 1 starter for the Patriots at quarterback. But even if not, he would take over the wheel no later than his sophomore season. The outlook is clear: if he can stay healthy — and his two seasons at Washington suggest that he can — he will be a starter sooner rather than later.

What is his growth potential? As noted above, Penix Jr. is an older prospect compared to other quarterbacks in this class. That does not mean he has no room for improvement, though, or a low ceiling. Based on what he brings to the table, he could one day become a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the most important position on the field.

Does he have positional versatility? Being a quarterback, there is limited need to use Penix Jr. outside of his natural comfort zone. His positional versatility is therefore quasi non-existent, even though he has had some successful scramble plays and was even targeted on one incomplete pass during his time in Washington.

Why the Patriots? As noted above, the Patriots might want to address other needs — or set themselves up to address other needs — rather than pick their next quarterback of the future at No. 3 overall. If so, Penix Jr. would make plenty of sense as a selection later in Round 1 or early in Round 2. After all, he has a lot of the traits teams are looking for in their QBs: from the aforementioned arm talent, to a natural leadership.

Why not the Patriots? Besides the team picking a quarterback third overall, thus negating the need for another passer later on, there also are some questions about Penix Jr. the team simply might not feel comfortable about. His age and injury history stand out — even though neither should be a deal-breaker unless the medicals come back negatively — but there are other areas New England might have issues with as well.

One-sentence verdict: The supremely talented Penix Jr. would be more than just a consolation prize if the Patriots decide to forgo the quarterback position at No. 3 overall.

What do you think about Michael Penix Jr. as a potential Patriots target? Does he have what it takes to be a franchise quarterback? Or should the team rather go after one of the top prospects in the class? Please head down to the comment section to share your thoughts.

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