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Atlanta Falcons had stunning grade on Michael Penix Jr., view him as best ‘passer’ in 2024

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons stunned the football world in the 2024 NFL Draft by selecting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick, just weeks after making Kirk Cousins one of the highest-paid NFL players. Now, new details have emerged on just how high the franchise was on their rookie quarterback.

After signing Cousins, many around the league assumed Atlanta would take an all-in approach. Atop the Falcons draft needs in 2024 were cornerback and edge rusher, but some theorized the team could draft a top wide receiver like Rome Odunze to surround Cousins with elite weapons.

Related: Worst picks of 2024 NFL Draft, including Atlanta Falcons’ selections

  • Michael Penix Jr stats 2023: 4,648 passing yards, 35-9 TD-INT, 85.7 ESPN QBR, 66.7% completion

The team did neither. Instead, even with Odunze and their choice of the top edge rusher and cornerback prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft available, Atlanta added a quarterback who it admits will likely serve as Cousins’ backup for several years.

“If he sits for four or five years, that’s a great problem to have because we’re doing so well at that position. So, it’s as simple as, if you see a guy you believe in at that position, you have to take him.”

Atlanta Falcons GM Terry Fontenot on drafting a QB you believe in, potentially sitting him for several years (H/T Marc Raimondi of ESPN)

Also Read: 2025 NFL Draft prospect rankings

Fontenot was also asked during a post-draft press conference about why the Falcons didn’t address the cornerback position, which was a glaring hole on the roster. The response from Atlanta’s general manager seemingly reflected just how high the team was on Penix Jr. even for a backup role.

“You don’t want to force it. You don’t want to reach in the draft.”

Terry Fontenot on the Atlanta Falcons not drafting a cornerback (H/T AtlantaFalcons.com)

Now, new information has emerged about just highly-graded Penix was on the Falcons’ draft board.

Why did the Falcons draft a QB?

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Reporting on SportsCenter, ESPN NFL insider Jeremy Fowler said that the Falcons rated Michael Penix Jr. as the second-best quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft and graded him as the best “pure passer” of the class. He was rated as one of the best players in the entire class and with team owner Arthur Blank’s blessing, Penix Jr. was selected.

Related: NFL QB rankings

If Atlanta is purely evaluating raw arm strength, it makes sense that Penix Jr. would be rated as one of the best pure passers among his peers. However, both Drake Maye and Caleb Williams also boast outstanding arm strength as well. While neither was available at No. 8 overall, Atlanta clearly felt Penix Jr. was better than one of them and No. 2 overall pick Jayden Daniels.

Statistical comparisons for 2024 NFL Draft QB prospects (Pro Football Focus)

Deep Passes (20+ Yards)

  • Jayden Daniels: 63.6% completion rate, 24.5 YPA, 146.8 NFL QB rating
  • J.J. McCarthy: 54.3% completion rate, 15.3 ypa, 130.0 NFL QB rating
  • Caleb Williams: 51.5% completion rate, 20.3 ypa, 124.1 NFL QB rating
  • Michael Penix Jr: 43.6% completion rate, 15.3 ypa, 105.1 NFL QB rating

vs Pressure

  • Jayden Daniels: 50% completion rate, 5-0 TD-INT, 11.1 ypa, 123.5 NFL QB rating
  • J.J. McCarthy: 63.4% completion rate, 8-3 TD-INT, 9.5 ypa, 111.8 NFL QB rating
  • Caleb Williams: 47.1% completion rate, 8-4 TD-INT, 7.2 ypa, 81.3 NFL QB rating
  • Michael Penix Jr. 41.8% completion rate, 6-5 TD-INT, 7.6 ypa, 68.0 NFL QB rating

Related: NFL power rankings after the 2024 NFL Draft, see where Atlanta Falcons land

The draft grade on Penix Jr. is even more curious because he is already 24 years old, with age often correlated to potential and the longevity of a player’s peak. Furthermore, he suffered four season-ending injuries in college including two ACL tears and damage to his throwing shoulder. It makes the Falcons’ selection and the undermining of a starting quarterback who will receive $100 million over the next two seasons, even more questionable.

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