Expert looks at Michael Penix Jr.’s outlook with the Falcons

NFL: MAR 01 Scouting Combine

The Falcons are trying something that’s never been done. No matter how many times Raheem Morris and Terry Fontenot reference the Packers succession plans for Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the situations in Atlanta and Green Bay aren’t similar.

The Falcons gave a free agent $180 million, and before he’s even taken a snap, drafted his successor. Coming off a 7-10 season, Atlanta wasn’t one player away from competing for a Super Bowl like Green Bay might’ve been coming off a 13-3 campaign before drafting Love, but Rodgers and Favre had something Cousins doesn’t — cache.

The Hall of Fame quarterbacks were already established veterans, respected by Packers teammates, fans, coaches, and everyone in between. That isn’t the case with Cousins in Atlanta.

The Falcons see a scenario where this works out, a smooth transition from Cousins to Michael Penix, but what’s more likely is a drama-filled soap opera.

It has nothing to do with Penix as a prospect either. It has everything to do with the circumstances in which he was drafted. Penix, the prospect, is worth getting excited about, especially on a Falcons team that features a lot of young talent.

The Athletic’s Dianna Russini recently graded each rookie quarterback’s outlook, and the 8th overall pick finished 4th among the six first-round quarterbacks.

Protection: This may be irrelevant, considering Penix might not play all season, but the Falcons return five starters from 2023’s second-best pass-blocking line (87.4 pass-blocking efficiency score, per PFF). | Grade: 6/6.

Coming into the offseason, the Falcons were heralded for their supporting cast, and it begins with the big uglies up front. Atlanta is returning all five starters, and there’s reason to believe the unit can be even better this year with Drew Dalman and Matthew Bergeron furthering their respective development.

Skill players:Bijan Robinson in the backfield, Kyle Pitts in the slot and Drake London out wide, all while Darnell Mooney stretches the field. It’s a strength in Atlanta. But again, timing makes this difficult. | Grade: 4/6.

Timing aside, the Falcons spent three consecutive top 10 picks on skill players, and outside of Kyle Pitts’ rookie year, we have yet to see their talent maximized. However, much of those shortcomings stem from poor quarterback play. The Falcons hope that is no longer the case.

Offensive system: New OC Zac Robinson is a former NFL QB and a Sean McVay disciple. This is his first experience as a playcaller, but expect his offense to create space for playmakers. | Grade: 3/6.

Zac Robinson was all the rage this offseason. Every team with an offensive coordinator opening pursued the former Rams quarterbacks coach, but he followed Raheem Morris to Atlanta. The infamous Patrick Mahomes assessment has given Robinson the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assessing quarterbacks. The Falcons quarterbacks should benefit tremendously from Atlanta’s quarterback-centric coaching staff, headlined by Z Rob.

Mechanics: Lefties look awkward — and Penix has room for improvement — but he’s still an elite thrower. His tendency to lean back is one reason he grades here. | Grade: 4/6.

Southpaws look awkward? I can’t help but laugh. Penix may have some things to clean up, like most rookie quarterbacks, but if we are talking purely arm talent, the kid can absolutely spin it.

Work ethic chatter: “He was always the first person to arrive at practice, always one of the last people to leave practice,” said Penix’s high school coach. Penix had to be a hard worker in college, overcoming four consecutive season-ending injuries. | Grade: 5/6.

This is something that Albert Breer touched on following the Falcons pick, revealing that Atlanta fell in love with Penix off the field shortly after falling in love with him on the field.

Short term outlook:The only obvious first-year backup, Penix has what most rookie QBs need: time. But it might be too much time. Kirk Cousins turns 36 soon and is coming off a significant Achilles injury, but Dan Marino played six more seasons after tearing his at 32. | Grade: 1/6.

Yeah… I don’t know how the rest of this even matters because by the time Michael Penix gets some burn, the Falcons could’ve replaced Zac Robinson, the offensive line could’ve undergone attrition, and who knows if Atlanta will re-sign Kyle Pitts. Russini’s final grade?

4. Michael Penix Jr., Atlanta (Grade: 64%)

Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

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