Quarterbacks Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. headline loaded Senior Bowl rosters

MOBILE, Ala. — If an NFL team is looking for a quarterback this draft season – like the Falcons – then Mobile is a good place to start.

Senior Bowl practices began Tuesday and were headlined by two quarterbacks for the National Team: Bo Nix (Oregon) and Michael Penix Jr. (Washington). Both were Heisman Trophy finalists who reached new levels after transferring. The two are competing to be top-50 selections, maybe even first-round NFL draft picks in April.

No collegiate quarterback has started more games than Nix. His career began in August 2019 when he outdueled Oregon’s Justin Herbert, helping Auburn defeat the Ducks in Arlington, Texas. His career ended Jan. 1, 2024, when he led those Ducks to a 46-6 win over Liberty in the Fiesta Bowl.

Down South, Nix is known as the guy who struggled mightily at Auburn. But he’s nowhere near the same player since transferring to Oregon. Nix threw 74 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions over the past two seasons, helping transform Oregon into a national power once again under former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.

Nix played for five different offensive schemes in his lengthy college career, which at least shows he’s adaptable.

“Five offenses in five years with five different play-callers, so I’ve been around the block,” Nix said Tuesday morning. He credited each of his coaches and explained he took bits and pieces from each during his emergence into a legitimate prospect.

“It shows the adaptability and the comfort I have in being uncomfortable and having to learn new things,” Nix said. “I took it as a fun challenge. I’m a football junkie, so I enjoy learning different plays and how you can name the same play different ways. … Maybe one day if I get to coach in high school or something, I’ll get to put all their offenses together and make them my own.”

Nix had an up-and-down practice Tuesday, needing to show better anticipation at times. But the entire week is a chance for him to cement himself a first-round pick, which seemed improbable three years ago. There are concerns, such as his age – Nix turns 24 next month – past struggles and the fact that much of his production was yards gained after the catch, but Nix deserves credit for putting himself in this position.

So does Penix, who likewise overcame a challenging start to his collegiate career. He had ACL injuries in 2018 and 2020 and shoulder injuries in 2019 and 2021. After starting at Indiana, he reunited with his Hoosiers offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer at Washington and thrived in the Pacific Northwest.

Penix had 67 touchdowns against 11 picks over the past two years. He went 3-0 against Nix’s Ducks, including two wins last season that propelled the Huskies into the College Football Playoff. Penix lit up Texas in the semifinals before Michigan’s defense got the best of him in the championship game.

Like Nix, age is a common talking point with Penix. He turns 24 in May. Penix’s lack of mobility has been criticized, and his offensive line was so dominant in college that it often covered for him there while he threw to an All-Star cast of receivers. The medical evaluation will be crucial to his draft stock, given the injuries that piled up over the years, though Penix deserves credit for getting past those issues and finding such success in Seattle.

NFL Network scouting expert Daniel Jeremiah has Nix as the No. 23 overall player on his board early in the process, behind the consensus top three quarterbacks of Caleb Williams (USC), Drake Maye (North Carolina) and Jayden Daniels (LSU). He has Penix at No. 40, also behind Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy.

Quarterbacks get pushed up the board because of their importance, though, so Nix could certainly go in the top half of the first round, believe it or not. He and Penix should be in play for the Falcons in the early rounds, so they’re going to be popular names around here over the next few months.


- Inside linebacker Jontrey Hunter is representing Georgia State for the National Team in Mobile. In 2023, Hunter had 95 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He was third-team All-Sun Belt Conference.

“It feels good (to wear the Georgia State helmet here),” Hunter said. “It’s great and I love it. It’s been a long journey. (Georgia State) prepared me really well.”

Hunter interviewed with some teams Monday. He’ll also be at the NFL Scouting Combine next month in Indianapolis. “It’d mean everything (to be drafted),” Hunter said. “It’d be a great honor for me and my family.”

- Among the standouts Monday: Former N.C. State linebacker Payton Wilson, who’s the younger brother of former Braves pitcher Bryse Wilson. Wilson has endured multiple knee injuries and a shoulder injury, yet remains one of the more intriguing linebackers in this class. He won the Butkus Award in 2023 as the nation’s top linebacker. He also won the Chuck Bednarik Award, was ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American.

“You’re getting someone who’s going to play every snap like it’s his last,” Wilson said. “The effort, the motor, the relentlessness. I like to compare myself to Luke Kuechly when it comes to passion, fearlessness and motor. I want to make every play. If we play 90 plays, I want to make 90 tackles. I’m not coming off the field.”

The younger Wilson lauded his older brother for setting a good example. Bryse pitched for the Braves across four seasons (2018-21). He famously outpitched Clayton Kershaw when the Braves beat the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2020 National League Championship Series.

“He doesn’t talk about himself; you know how baseball money is, he doesn’t flaunt it,” Payton said of Bryse. “He has the same friends from back home, lives 10 minutes from my parents. He keeps Christ first and doesn’t fall into the temptations of money and that stuff. It’s just awesome to have that role model in my life.”