Penix wowed Falcons' Morris, Fontenot with sound of his passes in pre-NFL draft workout

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — There's a reason Atlanta Falcons coach Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot made a cross-county flight for a personal workout with Washington quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. before the NFL draft.

They wanted to be able to hear Penix's passes.

Morris, who lined up at linebacker for the Penix workout, said the up-close sounds and sights were impressive, helping convince the Falcons to make the quarterback the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday night. It was perhaps the most unexpected selection of the first round and the highlight of the Falcons' draft that otherwise emphasized defense.

“The whole workout in itself was generally a fun experience to watch him throw, to see his arm talent,” Morris said. “... And to just be the linebacker ... I could hear the ball going over the top of my head. It had peak velocity at times and sometimes he was able to lay it over the top of me where I couldn’t get to it.”

The Falcons' Penix selection was a major surprise one month after signing free agent Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed.

“Here’s one of those times we’ve been able to stump the world and we’ve been talking about it for three days,” Morris said Saturday. “I hate for it to be the story of the draft and I know it will be.”

Morris and Fontenot deflected criticism of the Penix pick by saying they had to seize the opportunity to give the team its future starter. Cousins, rehabbing from an Achilles tendon injury, will be 36 this season.

“It’s a remarkable arm talent when you watch him throw the football or when you hear it,” Morris said of Penix. “And when you stand out there playing linebacker, it’s intimidating.”

Added Fontenot: “That’s why you want to see things in person. ... Throwing the ball, the way that thing pops off his hand and the velocity and all those things, seeing it in person does make a difference.”


Atlanta's next four picks after Penix were defensive players, including defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro from Clemson in the second round and outside linebacker Bralen Trice from Washington in the third on Friday night. Overall, the Falcons drafted five defensive players.

The trend continued on Saturday with defensive tackle Brandon Dorlus from Oregon in the fourth round, linebacker JD Bertrand from Notre Dame in the fifth and defensive tackle Zion Logue of Georgia with the last of three sixth-round picks.

Trice, who had a combined 16 sacks in his last two seasons, could provide immediate help as an edge rusher. Morris said the team “really valued” Orhorhoro's ability to move from nose tackle to end. Dorlus also can play end and tackle.


Atlanta looked for offensive help with its first two sixth-round picks. The Falcons added Alabama running back Jase McClellan and Illinois wide receiver Casey Washington. McClellan (5-10, 221) led Alabama with 890 rushing yards last season and ran for eight touchdowns.


Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett also is from Clemson, giving Orhorhoro a background with a team leader.

Orhorhoro and Falcons defensive tackle David Onyemata are natives of Lagos, Nigeria. Orhorhoro referred to Onyemata as “my Nigerian brother.” Orhorhoro said his family moved to England when he was 2 or 3 and moved to Michigan when he was 9.

Trice played for Falcons defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake when Lake was Washington's coach from 2020-21.

“I’m excited because Coach Lake has got that dog mentality,” Trice said.


Bertrand is from Alpharetta, Georgia, near Atlanta. His high school team, Blessed Trinity, won a 2018 state championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Falcons.

“That has always been the dream,” Bertrand said of playing in the stadium in the NFL. “Now I get the opportunity to just continue to improve upon that dream.”

Bertrand said he has recovered from a plantar fasciitis tear in his foot on the first day of Senior Bowl practice.


Fontenot said draft decisions, including the trade of a third-round pick to Arizona to move up in the second round and select Orhorhoro, were not affected by the NFL’s ongoing investigation of the team's possible violation of tampering policies before signing Cousins. The Falcons could lose one or more draft picks if found to have committed a serious violation.

“We know when we get out of the draft, and whatever that point is with the league, they’ll obviously let us know what we need to do,” Fontenot said Friday. "We’ll cooperate, and we’ll go through that process.”