NFL Draft: Falcons pull a shocker, take QB Michael Penix Jr. with No. 8 pick

Kirk Cousins was signed for a lot of money by the Atlanta Falcons this offseason and could have gotten some help from the team with the No. 8 overall pick of the NFL Draft.

Instead, the Falcons got Cousins' replacement.

The Falcons pulled off a huge surprise with the eighth pick, drafting Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. less than two months after signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million deal.

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Reaction to the Michael Penix Jr. pick by the Atlanta Falcons wasn't popular.
Reaction to the Michael Penix Jr. pick by the Atlanta Falcons wasn't popular.

Cousins is 36 years old and coming off a torn Achilles. But it's still a shock to see the Falcons go with a quarterback over someone like receiver Rome Odunze or even a pass rusher like Dallas Turner.

It's about to get a bit awkward in Atlanta's quarterback room.

It seemed like Penix was in college forever. In 2018 he played three games with Indiana. That was the first of six college football seasons in which he played a game.

When Penix left Indiana after four seasons, it didn't seem like he'd be a highly drafted quarterback. He had four touchdowns and seven interceptions his final season with the Hoosiers. He also had torn his right ACL twice.

Penix's career arc changed at Washington. He threw for 9,544 yards and 67 touchdowns his two seasons with the Huskies. He finished in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting twice, including a second-place finish last season. He also led Washington to the College Football Playoff title game. Penix's superb performance in the semifinal win over Texas was the first exposure for many casual college football fans to his game, and it was impressive.

Penix's injury history and his age (he'll turn 24 on May 8) were knocks against him in the draft process. In addition to two ACL injuries, he had season-ending injuries to his collarbone and the AC joint in his shoulder. That's a lot for an NFL team looking to use a high pick on him.

But Penix's game tape is also hard to ignore. He has tremendous arm strength and was highly productive at Washington. If Penix's health cooperates, he has the tools to be a productive player in the NFL as well.

But he'll have to wait for a bit behind Cousins.

Michael Penix Jr. led the Washington Huskies to the College Football Playoff championship game last season. (Photo by CFP/Getty Images)

Penix's age is another reason the Falcons' pick was odd. If Cousins starts two seasons for the Falcons, that means Penix would be 26 years old when he becomes Atlanta's starter. It's rare to select someone at No. 8 overall and not figure on him starting until he's 26 years old, at least.

It was also surprising that Penix was the fourth quarterback off the board. J.J. McCarthy was projected by many to be the first quarterback taken after Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye, but Penix went before the Michigan quarterback. McCarthy went at No. 10 to the Minnesota Vikings, who traded up for the pick with the New York Jets.

The draft always brings surprises. The Falcons brought a shocker on Thursday night. Cousins might have been the most surprised of all.