Michael Penix Jr. - The next Raiders QB?

The Raiders MUST go quarterback early in the 2024 NFL Draft; is Michael Penix the right option?

Everything can change with just one draft pick. With one selection of Terry Bradshaw in 1970, the previously 1-13 Pittsburgh Steelers brought home four Super Bowls in one decade. After selecting Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers lifted their first Lombardi Trophy, then another three under the same quarterback. New England rose to be football’s greatest dynasty with Tom Brady under center, and today, the Kansas City Chiefs control the NFL thanks to Patrick Mahomes. Are the Las Vegas Raiders ready to write their own history?

The 2024 NFL Draft is five weeks away, and mock drafts predicting who the Raiders will take in round 1 are in full force. As it stands, there’s currently a need for an outside cornerback, right tackle, and right guard in Sin City. Some members of Raider Nation even advocate for a defensive tackle or edge rusher to help with the team’s pass rush. Sitting at pick 13, the Silver and Black find themselves in a position to potentially land the top player in this year’s draft at any of the aforementioned positions.

There’s no shortage of options for the Raiders in round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft, and, in truth, the team would benefit from most – if not all – of the available paths presented above.

And yet, there’s still one position Las Vegas needs more than any on their roster. As it just so happens, that same one position is the most important position in football; the position that’s capable of elevating a team notably more than the others. The position that changed everything for multiple franchises and has only become more of a driving force for contenders as time has gone on.

We’re talking about quarterbacks, of course.

It’s as easy as targeting the league’s most prominent position, which also happens to be the team’s biggest need. Don’t overcomplicate things, Raiders.

The Las Vegas Raiders, and their clear case for a quarterback

It’s easy enough to sit here and talk about the importance of the quarterback position. It’s equally as easy to point out quarterback being the Silver and Black’s biggest need. And, realistically, those two things alone are enough to settle which direction the team should go in this year’s draft.

But there’s even more to why the team should focus on the man under center.

Our first stop is at the Raiders’ roster construction. This is a win-now roster with an offense that sports Davante Adams – a multi-year first-team All-Pro – Jakobi Meyers – one of the league’s best WR2s over the last two seasons – and ’23 second-round draft pick Michael Mayer. This offense presents so much firepower that former Pro Bowl receiver Hunter Renfrow was waived due to players such as the electric Tre Tucker stepping up and making their presence known.

And even with all of that firepower, and a now-gone Josh Jacobs who led the NFL in rushing yards two seasons ago, the ’23 Raiders’ offense ranked 27th in yards per game (289.5) and 23rd in points per game (19.5). This was largely thanks to subpar quarterback play, which not only made the passing game struggle, but hurt Josh Jacobs’ production as well.

Quarterback play directly affects a team’s running game

The Aidan O’Connell and Jimmy Garoppolo combo presented little threat, especially downfield, so teams dialed in on Jacobs. This resulted in Jacobs having a career-low 3.5 yards per carry, as opposed to his career high of 4.9 in 2022, when Derek Carr totaled the fourth-most throws 20+ yards downfield (71).

Is newcomer Gardner Minshew enough of a threat to open up the running game?

In 2023, Minshew tossed the ball deep 51 times; the 19th-highest total league-wide. Although that number may seem small, it’s a significant amount higher than O’Connell, who let it fly a mere 34 times. For Minshew, though, there was a lack of effectiveness. While O’Connell tossed five touchdowns on 17 fewer attempts, only three of Gardner’s deep tosses went to the house. Carr, in comparison, logged 11 touchdowns when going deep in 2022.

When you can effectively throw downfield, defenses must respect the possibility of the deep ball. Right now, the Raiders are unable to do that.

More than that, everything comes full circle: when your passing attack opens up the ground game, your rushing attack, now made effective by your air raid, makes your overall passing offense more effective. The two phases of offense play off of each other, as was the case with Davante Adams catching passes from Derek Carr in 2022. Adams, with defenses on their heels thanks to Carr’s deep ball and Jacobs’ presence on the ground, logged a career-high 15.2 yards per reception on his way to a monster season with 14 touchdowns (league-high via receiving touchdowns) and 1,516 yards.

Without a quarterback tossing the ball deep effectively, as Derek Carr did in 2022 when he totaled double-digit touchdowns on such throws, Adams suffered a career-low (since becoming a full-time starter) yards per reception mark of 11.1. Jacobs, again, had a career-low 3.5 yards per carry.

Quarterback play matters that much.

While on the subject of Davante Adams..

Let’s turn our attention solely to All-Pro wideout Davante Adams. No, this isn’t the standard ‘Las Vegas should get a better quarterback so Adams doesn’t request a trade’ talk we’ve all heard one too many times. Instead, this is about Adams being 31 years old, and the team getting the most out of the player they traded both a first and second-round pick for.

Currently, the Raiders have a win-now roster, but their window is largely being held open by an aging Davante Adams. If Adams reaches a point where he can no longer perform at a high level, the curtains will be closed, and Las Vegas’ current roster construction – one that is ready to compete today with viable quarterback play – will be all for naught.

You cannot waste Davante Adams, because offense is the name of the game in the NFL’s modern era, and Adams is a massive jumpstart to a potent offense.

In 2023, Sin City’s defense held opponents to 331 total points; the ninth-lowest mark across the NFL. And still, without desirable quarterback play, the team finished below .500 with a record of 8-9.

You need offense to be a threat in 2023 – the Raiders proved that last year, but so did multiple teams

Without an offense, oftentimes spearheaded by your quarterback, you aren’t much of a threat.

Take the New York Jets, for example, who allowed the third-least yards per game and 12th-least points per game. The team’s defense bolstered two first-team All-Pros in 2023, and yet, with a subpar offense, the Jets ended their season 7-10.

The other New York team, the Giants, are another example of this. Although Dexter Lawrence’s side of the ball gave up an abundance of yards and points, the unit surprisingly tied for the most turnovers last season. They got their offense the ball back more often than any other team outside of Baltimore, but due to the offense’s inability to get things going, the team finished 6-11.

No team league-wide gave up less yards than the Cleveland Browns, whose defense had Myles Garrett, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but it still wasn’t enough. In the wildcard round of the 2023 NFL playoffs, Cleveland was dominated by a red-hot Houston Texans team, whose quarterback was the ’23 Rookie of the Year.

Some fans believe T.J. Watt should’ve been 2023’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Pittsburgh felt Watt’s impact as they allowed the sixth-least yards per game. Still, without an offensive presence, the Steelers lost 17-31 to Buffalo – a team with fantastic quarterback play – in this year’s wildcard.

Sometimes, you’re able to piece together the league’s top defense while having your quarterback be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. And sometimes, even that isn’t enough to beat an all-time great quarterback such as Patrick Mahomes, who still managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

The power of quarterbacks.

Seriously; offense wins championships in the modern-era of football

An efficient offense, more often than not led by great quarterback play, is the key to contending in 2024. Don’t misunderstand—this isn’t an anti-defense sentiment. Defense certainly helps you win football games, and nobody can deny that. But without a potent offense and/or star under center, you can pack it in before the season begins.

Below is a list of Super Bowl winners and their offenses, as well as the runner ups in each of the last nine seasons:

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
Runner up: San Francisco 49ers
The best quarterback in the NFL lifted the Lombardi Trophy this past year. Also in the Super Bowl was San Francisco, whose Brock Purdy-led offense finished second in yards per game and third in points per game.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
Runner up: Philadelphia Eagles
Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s top quarterback, leads his team to a Super Bowl victory. The Eagles, led by Jalen Hurts, finished their season with the third-most yards per game and third-most points per game.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams
Runner up: Cincinnati Bengals
Los Angeles traded former Super Bowl-appearing quarterback Jared Goff, in addition to two first-round picks, to acquire Matthew Stafford. Quarterbacks are that valuable, and after winning a Super Bowl in large part to this trade, we’re reminded why. On the other side, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase had a come-out party, leading the team to the seventh-most points per game league-wide.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Runner up: Kansas City Chiefs
Tom Brady goes toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes. Need I say more?

Hope you’re taking note, Raiders

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
Runner up: San Francisco 49ers
Crowned the NFL’s MVP in 2018, Patrick Mahomes lifts his first Lombardi Trophy. Under Jimmy Garoppolo, the ’19 49ers offense ranked fourth in yards per game and third in points per game.

Winner: New England Patriots
Runner up: Los Angeles Rams
Tom Brady wins his last ring with the Patriots while Jared Goff leads the Rams’ offense to second in yards per game and second in points per game.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
Runner up: New England Patriots
Nick Foles helped the Eagles finish their season seventh in yards per game and third in points per game. All through the playoffs, Foles made game-changing throws to catapult his team to the Super Bowl and past Tom Brady.

Winner: New England Patriots
Runner up: Atlanta Falcons
What can be said about this game that hasn’t already been said? The 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan faces off against Tom Brady.

Winner: Denver Broncos
Runner up: Cam Newton
On one side, we have Peyton Manning. On the other, we have the 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton. Physically, Manning was a mere shell of himself, but his all-time high quarterback intelligence and leadership still helped propel Denver to a championship.

You get the point, right? Offense is king in the modern era of football. If the Raiders want to take advantage of their roster, complete with a defense that held opponents to the ninth-lowest points per game (prior to adding Christian Wilkins) and an offense with Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Tucker and Michael Mayer, they must tie it all together by grabbing a quarterback who can win football games.

Realistically, that leaves the team with two options: Trade up and secure a signal caller you believe in, or sit at 13 and see which – if any – slide to you. If the team stays pat at 13, which seems increasing realistic given all three teams picking top-3 are looking for a quarterback of their own, one name stands out as a great fit with the Raiders:

Michael Penix Jr.

Michael Penix – The next Raiders quarterback?

Like most topics frequently discussed among Raider Nation, Michael Penix potentially wearing the NFL’s iconic silver and black uniforms is a polarizing one. Some fans are all for it, and others couldn’t be more against it.

Penix has many positive traits; some will be discussed in this section, some will be brought up as this article continues, and some have already been hinted at.

When throwing the ball 10–19 yards downfield, Penix was on his A-game. The 24-year-old tossed 12 touchdowns (second-most in FBS on such throws) with a quarterback rating of 118.5 (10th-highest, min. 300 overall passing attempts). He was the 11th-highest graded quarterback (90.9) when throwing these intermediate passes, besting top prospects such as Caleb Williams (78.0), Drake Maye (83.8), and Jayden Daniels (89.4).

Another area in which Penix excelled was play-action. With a passing grade of 93.0 on such downs, no quarterback in the FBS (with at least 10 throws via play action) earned a higher grade than the Washington signal caller. His 2,090 passing yards ranked second, his 13 touchdowns ranked 13th, and his 134.8 passer rating ranked 8th.

On play action, Michael Penix Jr. threw zero interceptions despite totaling the seventh-most attempts (178). In fact, somehow, Penix managed to have zero turnover-worthy plays.

You remember the deep ball; right, Raiders?

In an earlier section, I explained how the Raiders offense struggled by taking away an effective deep-ball passer. To recap: With Derek Carr in 2022, who tossed the fourth-most 20+ yard passes (71) for double-digit touchdowns, Las Vegas’ offense opened up in a big way. Josh Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yardage on his way to earning a first-team All-Pro, while Davante Adams logged a career-high 15.2 yards per reception.

With Aidan O’Connell under center, who threw the ball deep 34 times – or on 9.9% of his throws; the 49th-highest percentage among all 72 players who tossed at least one deep ball last season (Minshew’s 10.4% deep ball percentage ranked 42nd-highest), Jacobs averaged the lowest yards per carry of his career (3.5), while Adams was responsible for his career-low (as a full-time starter) yards per reception mark of 11.1.

What does that have to do with Michael Penix?

In 2023, Penix tossed the ball 20+ yards downfield 117 times. This number stands a full 20 attempts higher than the second-place mark of 97 in the entire FBS. More than that, 16 of these passes resulted in six points for the man under center in Washington. With a 47% adjusted completion percentage, the 24-year-old proved he can deliver the deep ball accurately often.

While on the subject of deep ball supremacy…

It would be wrong not to touch on LSU’s Jayden Daniels – after all, the actual topic of this article is the need for Las Vegas to draft a quarterback, not necessarily Michael Penix specifically.

In 2023, no quarterback in the FBS was better than Daniels when throwing deep. On throws 20+ yards downfield, the signal caller, once paired with Antonio Pierce, led the FBS in touchdowns (22), big time throw percentage (45%), adjusted completion percentage (69.1%), and quarterback rating (146.8). Daniels did this on 55 attempts.

Alas, the Raiders must trade up to secure Jayden Daniels. The problem is, the Bears, Commanders, and Patriots—the teams picking first, second, and third—seem to have no interest in trading down. Which should lead you to think three quarterbacks are going back-to-back-to-back. Is one of those signal callers from LSU?

That sentiment brings us back to Michael Penix.

The ‘negatives’ with Penix Jr.

The main negative about Michael Penix Jr. is his injury history. From 2018 to 2021, Penix suffered a season-ending injury each campaign. Such injuries include two ACL tears in addition to two shoulder injuries.

Naturally, there’s a fear that Penix won’t be able to overcome such injuries. There’s also a fear that Penix will keep suffering injuries. And, in truth, both of these fears are completely reasonable. But the reality is, there more than likely isn’t too much to worry about—as far as his past goes.

Once upon a time, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were thought to have career-ending injuries. Tom Brady also suffered an ACL/MCL tear after winning three of his seven rings. Not only did the three aforementioned signal callers bounce back with ease, but each hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after coming back from the injury in question.

These three aren’t the only ones who have bounced back from such injuries, either.

How do pocket-passing QBs rebound from ACL injuries?

Here are some other pocket passers—which Michael Penix specializes in—who have suffered ACL injuries in the NFL (credit to Reddit user skulman7 for his research on the topic six years ago):

Carson Palmer – 2005 season
Notes: Tears in both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, as well as cartilage and meniscus damage. This was thought to be a career-ending injury. Palmer went on to play 12 more seasons, earning a Pro Bowl selection in his very next campaign while missing zero games.

Carson Palmer – 2014 season
Notes: Tore the same ACL nine years later, and still, his career—and great quarterbacking—continued. Similar to 2005, Palmer earned a Pro Bowl selection in the following campaign, logging career-highs in passing yardage (4,671) and passing touchdowns (35) while missing zero games.

Donovan McNabb – 2006 season
Notes: McNabb, who struggled to stay healthy in general, played 14-of-16 contests the next season, followed by a full 16-game season, followed by another 14-game season. This three-year stretch immediately following McNabb’s ACL tear marked his healthiest three-year stretch of his career. Two years later, McNabb posted the highest passing yardage total of his career (3,916). One additional year later, the Eagles signal caller earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Phillip Rivers – 2007 season
Notes: Tore his ACL in the AFC Championship Game and healed in time for minicamp. Went onto play 13 more seasons, missing a combined zero contests.

Sam Bradford – 2013, and again in 2014
Notes: Despite tearing his ACL in back-to-back seasons, Bradford bounced back to play 14 games in 2015, then 15 games in 2016. This was the healthiest two-year stretch of his career, coming immediately after his two tears. In these years, Bradford posted both his highest and second-highest passing yardage totals (3,725/3,877) of his career.

There’s a clear pattern here: not only are these quarterbacks playing great football immediately after their ACL tears, but they’re following up their injury by having the healthiest stretch of their careers.

So should we be surprised that Michael Penix played 13 games in 2022, then 15 games in 2023?

ACL tears? Right O-line troubles? Left-handed QB? No problems for the Raiders with Michael Penix

It’s not only that Penix Jr. has managed to stay healthy during his last two seasons at Washington, but he’s moved fantastically despite tearing his ACL twice.

His fluid movements are especially noticeable when escaping would-be sacks, leaving multiple outlets and stat keepers heaping praise on him.

When it comes to pressure-to-sack percentages, a stat that is not relative to offensive line blocking, but rather the percentage of times a quarterback escapes pressure when pressured, Penix is in a league of his own.

The numbers speak for themselves…

Neither Raiders quarterbacks, Gardner Minshew or Aidan O’Connell, were particularly impressive in this category last season. Minshew’s pressure-to-sack percentage was 17.9% (16th-lowest among starting quarterbacks in 2023), while O’Connell’s was a worse mark of 19.7%.

Injury history aside, which hopefully is no longer a concern after noting other quarterbacks who suffered ACL tears, Raider Nation struggles with Penix being a left-handed quarterback. After all, this would mean the right side of the offensive line, which is currently one big question mark, would be Penix Jr.’s blindside. But, as the numbers show, this isn’t a signal caller who folds in the face of pressure.

And if the questionable right side of the line is truly viewed as that much of a concern, it wouldn’t be too hard to draft Michael Penix, then grab a right tackle to protect him.

The dream, per [most of] Raider Nation, is to trade up from pick no. 44 to select Michael Penix. But why not secure your man under center with the first pick, then trade up to get him some protection on the right side?

Alabama’s J.C. Latham, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga, and Georgia’s Amarius Mims are three well-noted tackles who have spent time on the right side of the line.

And if Las Vegas doesn’t want to do that, but still fears the right side as Penix is a left-handed passer? That’s ok; it’s important to remember that Kolton Miller has played right tackle as a pro, and Dylan Parham has played right guard. The Raiders’ offensive line is truly versatile.

Get your guy and make your mark in history.

*Top photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

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