Falcons provide first NFL draft surprise by selecting Washington QB Michael Penix Jr with No. 8 pick

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons provided the first major surprise of the NFL draft by selecting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington with the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday night.

The Falcons extended their recent trend of selecting offensive skill players in the first round by drafting Penix one month after signing Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed. Using a draft slot normally targeted for players expected to make an immediate impact, the Falcons chose Penix as the apparent long-term successor to the 35-year-old Cousins.

The Falcons had been expected to use the pick to boost their pass rush.

The Falcons also focused on offensive playmakers with their last three first-round picks. Tight end Kyle Pitts was the No. 4 overall pick in 2021, followed by wide receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson, each No. 8, the last two years.

Penix, who will be 24 as a rookie, led FBS schools with 4,903 passing yards and was third with 36 touchdown passes. He won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top player.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said this week he would consider selecting a quarterback high in the draft even when most of the outside focus had been on edge rushers.

“If we see a player that we believe can be a franchise quarterback at any point, whether it’s this draft, next draft, whether it’s a player we can trade for, whatever it is, you have to bring that player in because we’re talking about the next four to five years plus when we’re talking about guys that we’re drafting,” Fontenot said.

“No different than when we’re talking about any other position, like you said, you can say it’s surplus now, but it can be a major need down the road. I think because of that and because of the magnitude of the effects and the impact of that position, then you always have to be willing to bring players in.”

The Falcons’ draft won’t by impacted by the NFL’s investigation of the team’s possible violation of tampering policies before signing Cousins, who appeared to indicate he had been in communication with team officials at a time the team would have been permitted to talk only with his agent.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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