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Raiders keep close eye on QB prospect at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — Michael Penix Jr. took a shotgun snap in a red zone drill at Thursday’s Senior Bowl practice, then rolled to his left to avoid the rush.

The Washington quarterback kept his eyes downfield, sidestepped a defender and then flicked a strike to Rice wide receiver Luke McCaffrey in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

That one play flashed all the skills that made Penix a Heisman Trophy finalist this season. It also had to catch the attention of every NFL scout, coach and general manager watching at South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium. That includes Raiders assistant general manager Champ Kelly.

Those kind of plays, which Penix pulled off throughout this week at an event featuring more than 100 of college football’s top prospects, could vault him into the first round of April’s draft. He made a strong case for himself to be the fourth quarterback taken behind Southern California’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and Louisiana State’s Jayden Daniels.

“I’m not sold, sold yet,” one NFL general manager said. “But there’s still work to do.”

This week was important for Penix.

The 23-year-old didn’t just need to produce impressive moments with his prodigious arm talent. He needed to show he could be steady rep after rep after rep.

“I feel like the biggest thing in this league is definitely consistency,” Penix said. “Just being smart with the ball.”

He’s off to a good start.

His ability on the field is just part of the equation, however. Penix’s long injury history may affect how teams evaluate him.

He tore his ACL as a freshman at Indiana in 2018. His season was ended by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder the following year. He suffered another ACL injury in 2020 that limited him to five games.

Penix did finish his collegiate career with two healthy seasons at Washington, where he transferred in 2022. He played in 15 games this year and threw for 4,903 yards and 36 touchdowns. He believes that should be enough to show he’s past his injuries.

But he knows it’s a question teams will ask. All he can do is let his play do the talking. It spoke volumes during his time with the Huskies, who won a Pac-12 championship and reached the national title game against Michigan with Penix leading the way.

“It comes up,” Penix said. “But at the same time, I’ve been healthy these last two seasons. I feel good right now, I’m healthy right now and showing them right now that I am healthy. I’m ready to compete.”

The Raiders, who have the 13th pick in the first round of the draft, are among the teams watching Penix.

A group of team staffers met with him at the Senior Bowl. Each meeting is allowed to take 40 minutes, much longer than those that take place at the NFL’s scouting combine in Indianapolis.

That allows for in-depth football discussions to take place. Penix, for example, gave one team a detailed explanation for how he would read a defense that appeared to be in a certain look. It showed he had an advanced feel for his position that went beyond just his physical gifts.

That makes the full package that comes with Penix enticing, even if his durability carries question marks. It’s a given the Raiders will continue to follow him in the coming months as they decide which path to take at quarterback under new general manager Tom Telesco and coach Antonio Pierce.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X

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