Is Michael Penix Jr. as good as gone?
That might seem like the sentiment, considering the UW electric lefty leads the nation in passing (3,640 yards) and set single-game records for passing yards (516) and completions (36, twice) in a dominant debut season in Seattle. The redshirt junior also cemented his local legacy last weekend, throwing for 408 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-34 win at then-No. 6Oregon.
In his remaining games against Colorado and Washington State, Penix completed 67.1% of his passes for a total of 27 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But will the redshirt junior – who has one season left – capitalize on his promotion to an entry in the 2023 NFL draft?
“I’m just stuck in the present and what I can do this week to help this team win against Colorado,” Penix said Tuesday, applauding the politically savvy approach. “So I really didn’t think about it. I just got included in this team. After the season, these thoughts and questions will come to me.”
These questions are already being asked – and answered – privately. UW coach Kalen DeBoer said Monday, “There are certainly conversations that positional coaches or I have (with players who are considering declaring for the draft) as the season progresses. We try to help you. We’re just trying to raise them, and we’re doing some things this week too. We try to do that consistently throughout the year, have various moments throughout the year where we educate the masses and then narrow it down to (the possible early entries) with the scope of what’s going on, to help.
“I think it’s too late if you wait until the season is completely over because people everywhere are going to lash out at these guys to find out what they’re doing.”
As far as Penix is concerned, this intrigue stands in stark contrast to the quarterback’s deflated draft shares last summer. The 6-foot-3, 213-pounder threw just four touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five games at Indiana in 2021 before a severed shoulder ended his season early.
“He’s forcing the scouts to reconsider their previous opinions because he really didn’t have any enthusiasm over the summer,” said Dane Brugler, an NFL draft analyst for The Athletic. “He wasn’t really considered a draft player in Indiana. Then factor in the medicine, which is still an unknown variable at this point. What are the long-term concerns? These are all things that are worked out at the combine.
“But if you just focus on what he taped in Washington, the tape undoubtedly shows a pulling player. Above average speed on his throws, has no trouble spotting throws from long-distance hash. I really like what he does in motion – sprints, any kind of backfield action. He’s not a top athlete, but he has enough mobility. He can climb for the sticks. He’s a good-size player, verified 6-2 and a quarter, 216 pounds. There are some things working against him. Its mechanics are not ideal. He has a long delivery. He’s guilty of going too far or not driving through his hips or not driving through his hips. But what he does works for him.”
On March 11th, Penix was listed at number 10 on ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s 2023 Big Board — behind No. 1 CJ Stroud (Ohio State), No. 2 Will Levis (Kentucky), No. 3 Bryce Young (Alabama), No. 4 Anthony Richardson (Florida), No. 5 Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), No. 6 Bo Nix (Oregon), No. 7 Jaren Hall (BYU), No. 8 Max Duggan (TCU) and No. 9 Jayden Daniels (LSU). Stroud, Levis and Young are considered the consensus top 10 picks.
But Penix’s stock could also be limited by its injury history. The Tampa product’s four seasons in Indiana each ended in injury — cruciate ligament tears in 2018 and 2020, a sternoclavicular joint injury (which connects the collarbone to the sternum) in 2019, and the AC joint shoulder problem in 2021. Penix graduated 59, 4% of his passes and threw for 4,197 yards for 35 total touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 20 Indiana games.
His best football by far was played this fall.
But could Penix’s injury woes offer more motivation to declare himself in favor of the draft – given the uncertainty of his runaway success?
“With the medical situation, no one knows more than he does that you never know when your next goal might be,” said Brugler. “With what he’s been through and all the times he’s been working back from those injuries, it’s such a personal decision. You could understand it either way. You could understand if, seeing the talent on this team, he says, “I could come back and we could fight for a Pac-12 title. I can get better at it. More reps is just what I need.”
“But at the same time when he says, ‘My time is now. I’ve put together a really strong 2022. I put out some really good tapes. With the injury situation, now is the time to go. “They could make a case either way. And with NIL, those choices really get that much harder. Because it’s not all about money.”
In the NIL era, could Montlake Futures – UW’s donor-run collective – offer enough opportunities to keep the Huskies’ star quarterback? The fanbase certainly understands the importance of Penix for an offense that leads the nation in passing (374 yards per game) and completions of 10 yards or more (154), and ranks third in third down conversions (54.68%). and in first downs (27 per game), fifth in passing attempts (43.9 per game), 13thth in scoring (38.4 points per game) and 15th in passing touchdowns (25) and yards per game (6.7).
On Tuesday, senior left guard Jaxson Kirkland said what sets Penix apart is “its preparation and its details. It’s very rare for a man to make a mistake when it comes to the Xs and O’s of offense. As soon as we came out for practice in the morning, he called. He’s already ready for the week. It’s never, ‘Damn, I’ll make it right.’ No, he’s already prepared for training and he’s limiting his mistakes and he’s extremely consistent.”
Penix’s consistency paid off at UW this fall.
Time will tell if it stays that way.
“I really like the veteran consciousness that he shows,” Brugler said. “He does a really good job identifying vulnerable match-ups before the snap. He knows where the lightning comes from. It’s a spread offense, so I think when you have an agile quarterback with his experience, with his arm talent, it really strains the defense. So you want him to keep improving decision making and accuracy throughout the year.
“But there’s no question he was impressive and positioned himself to force the scouts to reassess. He’s on a retractable path at the moment as long as the meds are okay.”