Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was a surprise selection when the Atlanta Falcons picked him eighth overall in the NFL draft. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was a surprise selection when the Atlanta Falcons picked him eighth overall in the NFL draft. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Shocker: UW QB Penix selected eighth overall in NFL draft

Atlanta surprises the football world by picking Penix; UW teammate Odunze taken one pick later.

  • Adam Jude, The Seattle Times
  • Friday, April 26, 2024 10:56pm
  • SportsHuskies

It was a historic night for the Washington football program, and a historic night for the NFL.

In the most stunning development of the NFL draft, UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 8 pick of the first round Thursday night, the fourth of a record five QBs taken in the first 10 selections.

“I’m not gonna say I knew it was coming, but I knew once the phone call came through,” Penix said.

One pick later, UW wide receiver Rome Odunze was selected with the No. 9 pick by the Chicago Bears, marking the first time since 1941 that two Huskies were taken in the top 10 of the same NFL draft.

That year, UW center Rudy Mucha was drafted No. 4 by the Cleveland Rams and halfback Dean McAdams went No. 8 to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Penix matches Jake Locker as the highest-drafted QB in Husky history. Locker went eighth overall to Tennessee in 2011.

Odunze matches John Ross (2017) and Reggie Williams (2004) as the highest-drafted receivers in Husky history.

Later Thursday evening, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected UW offensive lineman Troy Fautanu with the No. 20 overall selection.

It’s the second time in program history that UW had three first-round selections, joining the 2015 class of Danny Shelton (12th), Marcus Peters (18th) and Shaq Thompson (25th).

NFL talent evaluators were split on Penix’s pro potential — in large part because of his injury history — after his remarkable two-year run at UW that included a Heisman Trophy runner-up finish, a Maxwell Award, a Pac-12 championship and a national-championship game appearance.

That it was Atlanta that called on Penix drew immediate and widespread shock during the draft. In March, the Falcons signed 35-year-old QB Kirk Cousins to a four-year deal worth $180 million, with the first two years of his deal guaranteed.

Cousins’ agent told reporters his client was not informed of the Falcons’ plans before the draft.

“It was a big surprise. We had no idea this was coming,” agent Mike McCartney told the NFL Network. “We got no heads up. Kirk got a call from the Falcons when they were on the clock. That was the first we heard. It never came up in any conversation.”

Penix said he hopes to learn from Cousins.

“He has been in there for a while. He’s played a lot of football,” Penix said. “I feel like I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna learn. I’m gonna learn from him. … There’s a reason behind that.”

The Falcons had sent a small contingent to Seattle, including general manager Terry Fontenot and new coach Raheem Morris, to watch Penix and interview him during UW’s pro day workout in late March.

“It was a great session; it was a great time,” Penix said. “It was quick, but we made it worthwhile.”

Penix, a Tampa native, celebrated with his family in Florida on Thursday night.

“To be able to be in this position, I’m blessed,” Penix said on a conference call. “That’s all I can say, I’m blessed. I had no idea. I know that everything happens for a reason.”

Odunze, meanwhile, will start his NFL career alongside another touted rookie QB.

The Bears used the No. 1 pick Thursday on USC’s Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman winner. Odunze and Williams had flown to Chicago on the same flight for a pre-draft visit, and they worked out with Bears veteran receivers DJ Moore and Keenan Allen.

“I got to watch [Williams] in college and he’s super talented — a generational player,” Odunze said. “I think we can do special things.”

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