Don’t blame Falcons just yet for NFL draft bombshell pick of QB Michael Penix Jr.

Don’t blame Falcons just yet for NFL draft bombshell pick of QB Michael Penix Jr.


DETROIT – The show was holding pretty much to the script when Roger Goodell stepped to the center of the stage in Campus Martius Park on Thursday night holding the card containing the eighth pick in the NFL draft.

Quarterbacks went 1-2-3. As expected. For a league hell-bent on explosive offense, that set a certain tone. So, no biggie that a defensive player hadn’t been selected as pick No. 8 came.

Then it happened. The Commissioner stunned the massive, record-breaking crowd of 275,000 gathered in the streets downtown in the Motor City – plus millions watching at home and draftniks from coast to coast.

Goodell announced that the Atlanta Falcons selected Michael Penix Jr., the strong-armed quarterback from Washington.

Say what?

It was not a ruse. April Fools’ Day came and went already. It was nobody’s draft-and-trade move.

The Falcons’ pick of Penix was not only the biggest surprise of the first round, it represented the best-kept secret of the night.

Roughly six weeks after the Falcons lured Kirk Cousins with a deal that guarantees $100 million, they selected their quarterback of the future – or even the near future.

Ah, those sneaky Falcons. Like, wow. General manager Terry Fontenot and new coach Raheem Morris sure pulled one on all of us. Talk about flying under the radar.

It was such a secret that Cousins didn’t even learn of the plan for Penix until the Falcons were on the clock, according to Mike McCartney, the veteran passer’s agent.

Raise your hand – your left hand – if you had the lefty-throwing Penix joining the Dirty Birds with the eighth pick. If you did, then kindly send us your complete bracket for next year’s March Madness – the women’s tournament.

Conventional wisdom suggested that Atlanta was poised to bolster the defense with the eighth pick, perhaps with Alabama’s Dallas Turner or another edge rusher, such as UCLA’s Laiatu Latu (who wound up as the first defensive player chosen, No. 15 overall to the Indianapolis Colts).

Welp. The pick of Penix, who led the nation in passing yards last season, could be out-of-the-box thinking at its best.

Sure, they’ve already added Cousins to a unit loaded with enticing playmakers such as receiver Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Bijan Robinson. But why not double down at the game’s most valuable position? Quarterbacks are hard to secure. Having too many is better than not having enough.

Besides, Cousins, who signed a four-year, $180 million deal in bolting from the Minnesota Vikings, is 35, while coming off a torn Achilles tendon. If Cousins returns to previous form, the Falcons won’t have to rush Penix’s development. On the other hand, if Cousins fails to recover as planned, the Falcons suddenly have a rather attractive insurance policy.

Regardless, the Falcons have assured themselves of a succession plan at quarterback.

The other part of this surprise, though, is wrapped in the order.

What’s behind Door No. 8? Of the six quarterbacks taken in the first round, which matched the draft record set in 1983, Penix was the fourth signal-caller selected – ahead of Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and Oregon’s Bo Nix. McCarthy was taken by the Minnesota Vikings in 11th slot; Nix went 12th to the Denver Broncos.

The Falcons’ brain trust had their pick on the three and they chose Penix, considered the best deep thrower in the draft. Clearly, there’s a beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder element in play. If you paid attention to the draft experts, most had Penix rated as the fifth or sixth quarterback prospect…with McCarthy, coming off the national championship experience, rising up the charts.

Penix, though, shook it up.

The first three picks fell off the board as projected, led by the Chicago Bears’ choice of Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick. Yet only time (and assorted circumstances) will tell if in fact they were chosen in the order that proves legit.

Amid the pre-draft buzz, projections and smokescreens, the essence of the draft comes with the rationale and evaluation of the picks. Of course, maybe all of the quarterback-pickers would have taken Williams if they had the top pick.

After that? Remember, Patrick Mahomes – the great Kansas City Chiefs quarterback with three Super Bowl rings – was drafted 10th overall in 2017. The Bears that year took Mitch Trubisky in the second slot.

This time, the Washington Commanders chose LSU’s Jayden Daniels second overall, while the New England Patriots quickly turned in the card to claim North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

Should the order have been reversed? We’ll see.

Then again, maybe the Commanders or Patriots will someday regret passing on Penix.

Yes, the intrigue of the draft has legs that will extend for years, given the comparative analysis.

History tells us that there’s no way that all six of the quarterbacks chosen in the first round will pan out as promised. Of the six, maybe two will become cornerstone franchise quarterbacks, two will become busts and three years from now the jury will be out on the other two.

Just look at what’s happened with the 2021 QB class. Of the five first-round picks, only Trevor Lawrence, taken No. 1 overall, is installed as advertised. The others? None are with the teams that drafted them, trying to salvage their promise elsewhere.

That’s the caution that comes with Thursday night.

But it sure came with great theatre.

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