There’s a broader draft media point I want to make in a moment but I wanted to offer some brief, instant reaction thoughts on Michigan’s win against Washington in the National Championship game.
The ref’s had a very poor night, missing holds committed by Michigan players (I have less of an issue with the ones they called on Washington, you just want consistency). That said, look at what happened in the game overall. Michigan dominated the trenches with or without some favourable calls. They ended with 303 rushing yards and once again, all J.J. McCarthy had to do was manage the game.
You have to doff your cap to Jim Harbaugh. He inherited a team that was miles away. He’s been in the news for various reasons this year but he’s taken his school to the summit in an era where that has been especially hard to do with Georgia and Alabama a constant threat. They play typically tough, physical, beat-you-up football. They did all this without their best offensive lineman, Zak Zinter.
The Washington offensive line, which has been so strong all year, struggled. With an injured star running back, they never found much consistency or fluidity.
It’s another example of how often games are won in the trenches. You can have the big explosive passing offense but it doesn’t hold a candle to beating your opponent up inside. Note to Seahawks — that’s where you haven’t been good enough for years and that’s why you can’t create the identity you want.
My main focus, though, was the quarterbacks. And this is where the broader point on draft media comes in.
There were so many people overreacting to the Texas game, vaunting Michael Penix Jr into the top-five discussion and getting carried away. This influences people — and we see it time and time again. It’s no different when someone has a good pro-day. The overreaction that occurs is widespread and frustrating.
When you watch a full season-load of games for these players and even interview some of them, or speak to well placed sources, and then one pundit delivers a hot take after one game — you can’t do anything to push back against it. In that moment, you’re facing a tidal wave of opposition. Even something as minor as a decent pro-day for Malik Willis is enough to have people projecting him for the top-five, bemoaning their team passing on him and calling out decision makers online. Yet he never had any justifiable reason to go earlier than round three and that’s exactly where he landed.
What we saw today was the context I’ve tried to bring on Penix Jr. Undoubtedly, he has a great arm. We’ve seen that all season. He also showed last week he can have games where he moves around and makes plays, can deliver downfield passes with extreme accuracy and he’s a playmaker who has elevated his team.
In my article last week I also noted that he had an eight game stretch this season where his completion percentage plummeted from 74.9% in the first five games to 60.1%. His PFF grade also dipped from 89.9 to 71.6. This all coincided with an increase in pressures from 6.6 per game to 10.7 per game. Once the ‘easy pitch-and-catch’ games were gone, the production and performance dropped.
People mentioned injuries, illness and the weather — but his ‘big time throw’ percentage remained consistent throughout the season at 2.6 per game. I watched all of these games and saw a player who was just ‘off’ for a stretch, had some misses and also resorted to trying too many deep-balls thrown to areas rather than delivered with precision.
He now has 11 interceptions for the season. In comparison, C.J. Stroud only had 12 picks in his entire time at Ohio State.
Today we saw one of the other concerns I’ve voiced. There’s no doubting that Penix can throw the deep-ball brilliantly and make big plays. However, at the next level he’s going to face pressure like this quite often. There’s very little evidence on tape he can play a patient intermediate game, taking what’s on offer and playing with a more methodical style.
Today his head just looked scrambled as soon as the pressure started hitting home. He missed easy, wide-open opportunities where a bit of poise and clarity of mind would’ve put points on the board. By the end he was left throwing all over the place again with his technique out the window — finishing with only 52.9% completed passes.
Last week people were comparing the Texas performance to Stroud vs Georgia, which wasn’t right. Stroud felt the same kind of pressure we saw today, against one of the best college defense’s ever, and made impossible plays happen with his legs and arm. Penix felt frantic, compromised and constantly seeking any kind of rhythm.
He wasn’t helped by drops and some fierce Michigan play. Yet overall I think this validates what I’ve been trying to argue for most of the season. He has incredible, unquestioned arm talent and that has a lot of value. If you can protect him and give him time, he can hurt opponents. I think his ceiling is a bigger-armed Tua and there’s real value in that.
I’m not sure he’s going to have the smoothest transition into a NFL offense and his arm strength and big-play ability will need to be weighed up against whether he can manage from the pocket and play the percentages on an intermediate level. That couches his stock — so while two-thirds of Seahawks twitter was calling for the team to trade up for him seven days ago, I think we’re back to reality now. I’m saying this as someone who has seen all of Penix Jr’s 2023 games and watched him live. I like him — but we need to be realistic.
This is, of course, without even mentioning the injury history or the fact some teams just won’t want a lefty QB.
Caleb Williams will be the #1 pick. Given the way the draft order fell, I would expect Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye to complete the top three, followed by Marvin Harrison Jr going to the Cardinals at #4.
After that, there might be a wait. Draft media, just as much as it overreacts to single games, also overrates quarterbacks. Nothing about J.J. McCarthy says ‘first round pick’. I still believe there are teams who might consider other QB’s in the first frame but it’s less likely to be Penix Jr and Bo Nix. I think they’ll both be day two picks.
There’s always a chance one team forces things but you shouldn’t adjust your evaluation based on that. People scoffed at the thought of Penix Jr in round three a few days ago but I’m telling you — there will be teams putting him in that range, even if he still goes in the top-50.
The Seahawks will have an opportunity to draft a quarterback. The key at #16 for them will be whether they like one enough to take one there, whether they trade down, wait until later (without a second round pick) or if they just ignore the position.
It’s a loaded early-round class for the offensive line. I have Tyler Guyton, Taliese Fuagu, Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Amarius Mims and JC Latham all graded as first round tackles with Troy Fautanu a first round guard. It’s early but at least one of these players will be there at #16. A lot of people have Joe Alt in round one but I think he’s more of a round two tackle who goes in round one.
I have 12 more O-liners with second round grades. You can build a line for the future in this draft, without question. There could be great value too if Michigan’s Zinter falls due to his injury — he’s the best guard in the draft and could be a sure-fire long-term NFL starter who would’ve gone top-50 but now could last.
It’s less exciting on the D-line. Dallas Turner is overrated and, in my opinion, will not upgrade anything. Jared Verse has his admirers and has had some great games for FSU, plus some very quiet, uneventful games. Laiatu Latu is the best pure edge without necessarily having a ‘wow’ factor. Bralen Trice is a better pro-prospect than many of the nationals recognise (and can run a 4.2 short shuttle at his bigger size). Jer’Zhan Newton was an interior game-wrecker in college but measureables will be key for him. It’s hard to find impact interior rushers who translate their college production to the pro’s. There is depth at defensive tackle and some interesting options should last into rounds 3/4.
I still believe Spencer Rattler is criminally underrated and he faced the kind of pressure Penix Jr faced today on a weekly basis thanks to South Carolina’s appalling O-line. He showed he can handle it, he was creative, productive and excelled. He is the hidden diamond within the class, someone well worth drafting and giving a chance to. The Gamecocks’ offense carries some pro-concepts and he faced a pro-environment with all the pressure and hits. Rattler’s arm talent is excellent, he has completely developed into a player who can play within structure, he’s a big-play threat and he has matured greatly from the Oklahoma days.
If the Seahawks could find a way to come out of the draft with him plus Zak Zinter and a first round O-liner — that would be a very intriguing boost for the long-term success of the offense. They might be better off with a more experienced, proven O-line though — paired with a younger, faster defense.
Health permitting, linebacker Payton Wilson is also a player who would look great to add speed, intensity and playmaking quality at linebacker. There are loads of other players I could mention too. It’s an intriguing draft — and it’s why it’ll be a crying shame if they don’t re-sign Leonard Williams and end up having blown a valuable second round pick. Especially if they try and pull a stunt like trying to ‘run it back’ in 2024.