Michael Penix Jr. is the best quarterback in college football you either haven't heard much about or completely forgot.
The Washington Huskies passer -- and Indiana transfer -- has scorched every defense he's faced through four contests. He's completed nearly 64% of his throws at 9.6 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns and one interception.
The dazzling start got me thinking -- where is Penix as a prospect right now, and where is he potentially headed?
For as much fun as it is to go crazy in the early going and instantly label a quarterback a first-round talent because of a highly productive beginning to a season, I always proceed with caution on this front because physical traits are often prioritized over statistics in Round 1 of the NFL Draft.
However, while keeping that in mind, I'm also keenly aware of a fascinating phenomenon that seemingly occurs in every draft class, or, at least has been present recently -- an out-of-nowhere quarterback rises into the first round. It's happened in each of the last seven drafts. Quarterbacks, who before their final collegiate campaigns were widely viewed as middling mid-to-late-round prospects or maybe off the draft radar completely, ascended during the pre-draft process and ultimately heard their names called within the first 32 selections.
Therefore, any spectacular start at quarterback must be closely examined to check if those ever-important "first-round traits" are there. After watching Penix it feels like they are.
Let's start simply. Here on an out-breaking route from the slot against Stanford. Notice the anticipation, sheer velocity, and ball placement from Penix.
Laser beam. That's a long throw, too, from the far hash mark close to the numbers on the other side of the field.
How about the mustard on this touchdown against Michigan State? Seemingly surprised his receiver, the Spartans corner, and the cameraman.
Straight gas, homie. I love how, on this rollout, away from his natural momentum as a lefty, Penix took an extra second to set his feet, square his shoulders, and uncork a gorgeous throw with pinpoint accuracy deep down the field.
Another illustration of his immense arm strength.
That was 40 yards dropped into a bucket over the outstretched arms of the cornerback who actually had tight coverage on the vertical route.
For as much as the first round is very much about physical traits, nuanced skills matter, too. And Penix has shown those. The combination of traits and polished play are the foundational elements found in the majority of first-round picks.
Here, against Stanford, Penix initially looks right to hold the middle-of-the-field safety before ripping a fastball to a receiver running a slot fade on the other side of the field.
That is probably the most impressive, NFL-translatable throw I've seen from any collegiate quarterback to date this season. And here's proof that the safety manipulation wasn't a fluke.
Early in the convincing upset win over Michigan State, Penix again held the safety before releasing a perfectly thrown deep ball for a huge chunk play down the right sideline.
Trajectory, timing, accuracy -- all exquisite on that throw. And given the tightness of the coverage, all the components of that throw had to be exquisite.
Is Penix athletic? Great question. It's imperative for a quarterback in today's NFL to have improvisational ability. Penix isn't the next coming of Lamar Jackson, but absolutely is a sudden athlete with scrambling capabilities. Here, on a touchdown strike against Michigan State, Penix gave a glimpse of how he can create with his legs.
In his first four games, Penix is 11 of 17 for 219 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions on outside-the-pocket throws. He can move.
Now, before you think I'm ready to predict Penix as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, I will acknowledge -- the wide-open, spread-out nature of Washington's offense isn't incredibly translatable to the NFL. It'll temper the excitement for many scouts, GMs, and college scouting directions. The Huskies passing attack has provided Penix some massive lanes through which to throw the football.
And he's hardly been pressured -- only 17.8% of the time -- which has certainly made his life easier inside the pocket. NFL teams -- and draft analysts -- actually like to see a quarterback prospect pressured more frequently in college because at the professional ranks, pressure occurs more often, meaning experience dealing with and combating messy pockets is a vital prerequisite to playing the position well on Sundays.
Those elements stand in Penix's way as he attempts to boost his stock all the way to first-round territory.
But for the naysayers who'll mention Penix looks to be a one-year wonder, thereby eliminating him from any first-round conversation, remember this: Kenny Pickett threw 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions at 7.6 yards per attempt in his second-to-last season at Pittsburgh, and Joe Burrow tossed 15 touchdowns to nine interceptions at 7.6 yards per attempt and a completion percentage of 57.1% in his penultimate year at LSU.
Penix isn't a slam-dunk first-round prospect at this very moment. But if he continues to throw the football as majestically as he did in the first month of the season, he has the physical traits to be a first-round pick in April.