Washington quarterback Michael Penix runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine on March 2 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Washington quarterback Michael Penix runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine on March 2 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

How Michael Penix Jr. shot to the top of many NFL draft boards

After an impressive showing at the combine, the UW quarterback is going in the first round of many mock drafts.

I don’t know if it’s sportswriting’s Rule No: 1, but it’s in the top 10. And the rule is that: Nobody, not the general manager, the coach, and certainly not the journalist knows if a draft was a success before a game is played.

Like grading a trade or a hire, it can take months at minimum — usually years — to know if it was the right move.

There have been too many top picks who have flamed out, too many late picks that have flourished, too many undrafted free agents who became stars.

But — and this column might very well end up on the Freezing Cold Takes account on X one day — Michael Penix Jr. is feeling more and more like a future NFL starter. Maybe even a standout.

It wasn’t long ago that the former Washington quarterback was, perhaps, the most polarizing player in the draft. Not in the sense that his personality was off-putting — few would think that — but because his injury history and throwing mechanics had prognosticators wondering if he’d ever excel at the top level.

Then came the NFL combine when, according to several reports, his medical exams checked out. Teams saw the two knee injuries and the two shoulder injuries and decided that he had properly healed.

Then came the throwing exhibition, when Penix’s spirals were tight as a corset. The top three projected QB picks (Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye) didn’t throw, but Michael — using his deep ball as his prime asset — was the most impressive among those who did.

Now, he’s going in the first round on a bevy of mock drafts. He is the No. 4 overall QB in the draft according to analyst and former NFL signal caller Chris Simms, too.

Over the past two years, Penix thrived on the college football landscape despite the casual fan being oblivious to his ability after four injury-shortened seasons at Indiana. In fact, had then-Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer not lured him to Washington and paired him with one of the nation’s best receiving corps, he might still be relatively anonymous.

The 24-year-old southpaw was slept on. Maybe the football world should learn not to do that again?

Of course, there is a reason Penix hasn’t shot to the top of the boards despite a 2023 campaign that saw him take UW to the national championship game in his Heisman Trophy runner-up season. He is not the most athletic QB, something his eight rushing yards last season speak to. And scouting reports have noted a lack of touch on intermediate throws. Plus, regardless of how his body looks now, there will likely be some teams who simply see the four season-ending injuries and label him injury-prone.

It’s just that there is so much substance, too. His deep ball may very well have been the best in college football last season — something that was on full display in the Sugar Bowl, when the Huskies beat Texas behind Penix’s 430 passing yards. This skill was confirmed in the combine, where he was placing 60-yard throws right on the receivers’ hands.

Granted, it’s easy to connect on go routes when you’re not being pursued by 300-pound linemen. But it’s not so easy when you know a couple of misfires can cost you millions of dollars due to your plummeting draft stock.

And if there is one thing Penix has proven above all, it’s that he can perform under pressure. In fact, no college quarterback last year did so as consistently.

It’s one thing to have success behind center when the games don’t mean as much — as was the case with Heisman winner Daniels of LSU, which lost two of its first five contests. It’s another thing to have success when all the games matter but you’re winning most of them in blowout fashion, as was the case with Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy.

But Penix? He won 14 consecutive games during a season in which A) 10 consecutive contests were decided by 10 points or fewer, and B) the offense — scratch that, the team — was almost fully dependent on the passing game. Penix never failed to deliver until the natty (during which he appeared injured), which is why he earned my Heisman vote.

The draft is all just guesswork, no matter how educated the guess. But Penix has shown that, if he’s truly healthy, he’s as dangerous as anyone in the game.

In other words, if teams sleep on him now, they may lose sleep over him later.

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