National Football League
Why Falcons made stunning pick, taking QB Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 overall
National Football League

Why Falcons made stunning pick, taking QB Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 overall

Published Apr. 25, 2024 9:36 p.m. ET

The Falcons have quickly gone from a team without a franchise quarterback to ... a team with two?

Atlanta had the first big surprise of Thursday's NFL Draft, staying put at No. 8 and using their top pick on Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., despite giving a $180 million contract to veteran Kirk Cousins just last month.

It's an unexpected overinvestment, but it's at the most important position on the field. Cousins has $100 million guaranteed in his contract, but he's also 35 and coming off an Achilles tear, so Penix gives the team both a short-term insurance policy and a long-term answer whenever Cousins' time is up.


Most draft experts had the Falcons taking a pass-rusher like Alabama's Dallas Turner at No. 8, or perhaps trading down to a team like the Vikings or Broncos, both thought to be interested in Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy. But Atlanta did neither, keeping the pick and taking a quarterback few had seen as the fourth-best in this draft class. The draft started with three straight quarterbacks, with USC's Caleb Williams going to Chicago, LSU's Jayden Daniels to Washington and North Carolina's Drake Maye going third to New England.

Penix was a prolific college passer, playing a combined six seasons at Indiana and Washington. He threw for 4,903 yards and 36 touchdowns this past season, giving him 13,741 yards and 96 touchdowns in his college career. He's been limited by injuries for much of that time, and he's older than most draft prospects, turning 24 on May 8.

The arrival of not one but two headliners at quarterback will set up an interesting dynamic for the Falcons. If Cousins isn't fully healthy to start the season, they could turn to Penix, but if he plays well, could he stay as the starting quarterback with such money invested in a veteran? If Cousins plays and doesn't play well, fans will be clamoring for the rookie to step in with good reason.

Either way, the Falcons have added a serious dose of excitement to their offense and their franchise. Last year, they struggled with Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, managing only 17 total passing touchdowns in 17 games and finishing a disappointing 7-10 for the third year in a row. That led to the firing of Arthur Smith and the hiring of Raheem Morris, and the addition of Cousins has made Atlanta the oddsmakers' favorite to win the NFC South.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports' NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


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