Vikings

Could Michael Penix Help the Vikings Find Gold At Pick No. 11?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 1999 NFL Draft was a quarterback-driven class with three signal callers taken in the first three picks. The Minnesota Vikings waited with the 11th-overall pick and watched as Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith went off the board.

At that moment, the odds of selecting a quarterback were slim. But Minnesota waited its turn and took a big-armed quarterback out of Central Florida. Daunte Culpepper would become the closest thing the Vikings have had to a homegrown franchise quarterback since Fran Tarkenton and become one of the best picks in that draft.

Twenty-five years later, the Vikings will be on the clock with the 11th-overall pick in the draft. Caleb Williams, J.J. McCarthy, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels are all worthy of a top-four selection, but Minnesota would have to make a pricey trade to acquire one of them.

If Minnesota’s sticker shock prevents them from making a deal, they could stay at No. 11 and try to strike the same vein of gold with Michael Penix that they found with Culpepper 25 years ago.

Penix is a polarizing prospect among. He has one of the best arms in the draft, but his advanced age (he’ll turn 24 in May) and lengthy injury history are enough to scare some fans off. There are plenty of reasons Vikings faithful wouldn’t be thrilled to see Penix’s name called with the 11th-overall pick, but there could be enough to make it work.

Penix’s career started at Indiana, and he led the Hoosiers to Big Ten relevance. Penix played in three games for Indiana before tearing his ACL in October 2018. A year later, he completed 68.8% of his passes while throwing 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Penix was an impact player for the Hoosiers in 2020, throwing for 1,645 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions in six games, but only completed 56.4% of his passes. But he also tore his ACL that November. While returning the following fall, he threw four touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing just 53.7% of his passes before suffering an A/C shoulder joint separation in his non-throwing arm.

Penix hit the transfer portal the following spring and landed with a better supporting cast in Washington. With Kalen DeBoer on the sidelines and Rome Odunze as his top target, Penix threw for 67 touchdowns and 19 interceptions and completed 65.4% of his passes during his two seasons in Seattle.

The last two years are what everyone remembers when discussing Penix as a prospect. But his decision-making under pressure was a key weakness.

Pro Football Focus charted Penix with a 58.2 adjusted completion percentage (which eliminates completions out of the quarterback’s control, such as drops, spikes, and throwaways) last season at Washington and posted a 29.4% adjusted completion rate against Michigan in the National Championship game.

Penix’s 74.5% adjusted completion rate overall is also a concern as it ranks behind top quarterback prospects such as McCarthy (80%), Daniels (79.6%), Williams (77.5%), and Maye (75.3%). Even Bo Nix, considered the sixth-best quarterback in the draft, led the nation with an 85.5% adjusted completion rate and could be on the radar, according to Kevin O’Connell’s comments on The Pat McAfee Show last week.

 

“I think accuracy,” O’Connell said, “is one trait that quarterbacks need to have.”

When McAfee suggested Penix, O’Connell turned into Stefon Diggs on Family Feud before restating his quarterback’s need for accuracy. The exchange led Vikings fans to interpret O’Connell’s opinion both ways, but some positives could outweigh the negatives.

Penix’s arm is the most obvious one. Last season, he ranked 10th in the nation with a 7.3% big-time throw rate — defined by PFF as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or a tighter window. Penix also ranked ninth with a 2% turnover-worthy play rate, making him one of three prospects in this year’s draft (Maye, Daniels) in the top 10 of both categories.

Penix’s rates under pressure are also interesting. While Penix’s turnover-worthy play rate jumped to 4.1%, his big-time throw rate improved to 9.7% – the fourth-highest clip in the nation under pressure. Mix in a clean bill of health at the scouting combine and an impressive performance that saw him run the 40-yard dash in around 4.5 seconds during his pro day, and Penix could be on Minnesota’s radar if they can’t trade up to get a top-four quarterback.

 

Some Vikings fans believe this could be the worst-case scenario for a team focused on being good enough to stay in the hunt. But there’s a chance the Vikings could see Penix as an equal to the top four quarterbacks instead of a consolation prize and take him with the 11th-overall pick without giving up extra draft capital.

The Vikings traded for the 23rd-overall pick as ammunition to orchestrate a trade to get a top quarterback. But that wouldn’t be wasteful in this scenario because it would allow the Vikings to select a key defensive player with either of their first-round picks.

“I think you view it as extra flexibility in a draft where between our pick at 11 and the way we’re looking at this draft at pick 23, we think there’s going to be some really good players available if we were just to stay at those positions and take players, maybe a quarterback, maybe a couple defensive players,” O’Connell said during an interview on NFL Network’s The Insiders this week. “I think it’s going to be a big-time offensive draft at the top, so when those marquee defensive players start to go, could be in a range around that 11th pick for us, but I think it was about flexibility.”

To O’Connell’s point, the Vikings have been connected to Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II and Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell during the draft process and selecting either player while also taking Penix could allow them to keep what could be a potential top-10 selection in 2025.

In this hypothetical, could the Vikings take Murphy at 11, trade up for Penix at 23 and wind up with Colorado cornerback Travis Hunter in 2025? Or could they take Penix at 11, trade down from 23, and use that capital to hit the sweet spot like they attempted to do during the 2022 draft, acquiring Andrew Booth Jr., Ed Ingram, and Brian Asamoah?

Using the 1999 draft as an example, it could go both ways. The Vikings were wise to select Culpepper with the 11th-overall pick, but they could have also taken edge rusher Jevon Kearse. While Minnesota hit on the quarterback, they whiffed with their second pick, defensive tackle Dimitrius Underwood.

The Underwood failure hurt, but not as much since Minnesota landed its quarterback. If the Vikings do the same with Penix, they could land a homegrown quarterback prospect for the first time in decades and give themselves more talent on the defensive side of the ball.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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