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Falcons select Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. with No. 8 overall pick in 2024 NFL Draft

Atlanta has drafted the heir apparent to Kirk Cousins in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Falcons selected Washington quarterback Michel Penix Jr. with the No. 8 overall pick.

It's a stunning move for Atlanta, who inked Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million in guarantees in March despite him coming off an Achilles injury.

The move didn't just surprise fans watching draft coverage on TV. Count Cousins' camp among those who did not see the Falcons going QB in the top 10.

"Yes, it was a big surprise," Cousins' agent, Mike McCartney, told NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo on Thursday night. "We had no idea this was coming. The truth is the whole league had no idea this was coming. 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 conversation."

There were discussions that the Falcons could trade down and snag Penix, but general manager Terry Fontenot didn't mess around, deciding to take the quarterback at No. 8.

Penix, who turns 24 in May, will presumably sit behind Cousins for the next couple of years, setting himself up as an eventual successor. Fontenot confirmed as much in his press conference after the first round ended.

"When you can add a high-caliber player like that, with his intangibles, those tools ... you don't pass up that opportunity," Fontenot said. "Kirk Cousins is our quarterback, we're very excited about Kirk, very excited about this team, and Michael Penix is, we're talking about the future."

Penix rose to stardom at his second school, Washington, helping the Huskies quickly ascend to national title contenders in just two seasons. After earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in his first campaign in Seattle, the QB delivered an incredible follow-up performance in his final season with Washington, winning the Maxwell Award as the nation's top player and finishing with second-team All-American and All-Pac-12 honors; he was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Davey O'Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

All the hardware came as a result of leading the Football Bowl Subdivision with 4,903 passing yards as the engine behind one of college football's most explosive passing attacks. Penix and the offense powered the Huskies to a Pac-12 title (earned only after taking down Oregon twice in 2023), a win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

With a live arm capable of spreading the ball among Washington's cast of talented targets (headlined by fellow top 2024 draft prospect Rome Odunze, who was taken by the Bears at No. 9, one pick after Penix went to Atlanta), Penix rocketed up draft boards to join the top quarterbacks in the 2024 class. Scouts love his arm talent, as well as his toughness and perseverance to fight through the many injuries suffered in his six-year career. That said, his injury history has left some wondering whether he might be a risky investment.

Penix began his collegiate career at Indiana, where he helped the Hoosiers jump from afterthought to Big Ten contender in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons but struggled annually with injuries. Two torn ACLs and two shoulder ailments limited him to a total of 20 games played over four years in Bloomington before he decided he needed a change of scenery, following his offensive coordinator at Indiana, Kalen DeBoer, when he transferred to Washington in 2022.

After two years together and a national title game appearance, DeBoer left Washington to replace Nick Saban at the collegiate powerhouse known as the University of Alabama. Penix, meanwhile, is off to the NFL to learn behind Cousins.

The prevailing assumption entering the draft was that the Falcons would look to upgrade their defense after years of taking offensive skill position players early in the first round. Instead, Atlanta secured its quarterback future for years.

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