NFL draft's most questionable picks in first round: QBs Michael Penix Jr., Bo Nix lead way

One need look back no further than just last year for a reminder of the danger in quickly judging NFL draft decisions.

The Detroit Lions broke from consensus to take running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell in the first round, earning them widespread derision for their draft double-dip. That rookie class, however, went on to become a core part of the Lions' run to the franchise's first title in three decades.

But with the first round of the 2024 NFL draft complete, some selections – and one in particular – proved a little perplexing on first blush. While these moves could follow the Lions' example by proving their worth in short order, here are the seven most questionable picks of Day 1.

1. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Atlanta Falcons (No. 8 overall)

USA TODAY Sports columnist Jarrett Bell wrote a fine column arguing for patience in assessing the Penix pick.

I'm here to be the reactionary whom he warns against.

Simply put, there's the rest of this list, and then there's Penix and the Falcons. While other teams' decisions Thursday might be difficult to square, Atlanta's process is borderline indecipherable.

For at least two years, there's no off-ramp to the four-year, $180 million contract Kirk Cousins signed this March. By the time the 2026 regular season rolls around, Penix will be 26 – two years older than Jordan Love was this past fall when he took the reins to the Green Bay Packers' offense. As a sixth-year senior with five seasons of starting experience, Penix isn't exactly in the same boat as was Love. The second-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy can dazzle in the deep passing game when the conditions are right, but issues with mechanics, ball placement and being forced off his spot seem bound to be more prevalent problems in the pros.

And while coach Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot can hope they've set up a similar succession plan here to the one Green Bay managed, pursuing an outlier outcome doesn't make for a good process. And it's never a good idea to send your freshly signed veteran quarterback down the Aaron Rodgers path of hurt feelings.

Atlanta's decision to pay up handsomely for Cousins, 35, seemed to indicate the organization intends to compete right away, a reasonable conclusion given its impressive collection of offensive talent. In taking Penix, however, the franchise missed the opportunity to make a premium investment in its languid pass rush, an area that's not easily addressed with later picks. Now, the efforts to build across two timelines might end up compromising each one.

Maybe two years of having Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder behind center can induce madness in an organization. Rather than choose one plan, the Falcons mashed every quarterback button at once, and it's possible they jammed the franchise's system.

2. Bo Nix, QB, Denver Broncos (No. 12 overall)

Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix (10) reacts against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Mountain America Stadium.
Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix (10) reacts against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Mountain America Stadium.

It's only fitting that Sean Payton made his long-awaited selection of a first-round quarterback by taking a 24-year-old who set a Football Bowl Subdivision record with 61 career starts.

Nix checks plenty of boxes for a Payton passer: accurate, decisive and able to buy second chances with his mobility and comfort throwing on the move. Still, it's hard to deny he was the beneficiary of the Broncos' desperation for a quarterback. Denver had limited resources to push for one of the top passers, and Nix was the sixth signal-caller off the board.

As an older prospect with five years of starting experience, Nix might have limited growth potential. But what you see might not be what you get, as Oregon's offense frequently afforded him easy quick hitters. He'll have to hang onto the ball longer to let plays develop, which could prove taxing.

Ultimately, the pick points back to Payton, who had a calamitous first season in Denver and still faces a tough outlook for 2024. If the coach can get Nix up to speed quickly, the decision will surely be celebrated. But Nix's margin of error appears to have shrunk considerably as he jumps to the next level, and rocky outings in the Rockies will invite heightened scrutiny for the coach given how poorly his tenure started.

3. Darius Robinson, DE/DT, Arizona Cardinals (No. 27 overall)

Arizona has a troublesome track record of first-round defenders who struggled to find the right position (see: Haason Reddick, Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins). Robinson could be at risk of joining them.

The 6-5, 285-pound defensive lineman moved to the outside in 2023 and flourished, earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors while recording 8 ½ sacks. Sticking on the edge at the next level likely will be difficult, however, as Robinson lacks the explosive burst and fluidity to throw off offensive tackles.

Coach Jonathan Gannon insisted Thursday night he has a plan for Robinson, though he refused to reveal it. While the Cardinals can afford to take the long view of building out a decrepit defense, it's hard to shake the notion they could have used this pick to secure a more proven product who still offered substantial upside.

4. Tyler Guyton, OT, Dallas Cowboys (No. 29 overall)

By the time the Cowboys were up at No. 24, all of the offensive linemen capable of immediately taking over for Tyron Smith at left tackle had been taken. Trading back five slots was a sensible move. But taking an inexperienced blocker who will be flipping over from the right side is a tenuous solution for a franchise that is ill-equipped to endure growing pains.

A former H-back, the 6-8, 322-pound Guyton boasts the massive frame and quick feet to be a top-tier pass protector. That ascension won't happen right away, however, as he's still learning the finer points of the position. A redshirt year – or something close to it – might have benefitted him, but instead he'll be thrown into action and expected to protect Dak Prescott's blind side. Prepare for some rough spots.

5. Ricky Pearsall, WR, San Francisco 49ers (No. 31 overall)

The name no one saw coming on Day 1 was Pearsall, who claimed his first-round space ahead of some more high-profile pass catchers. With his quick cuts and knack for finding soft spots in zone coverage, he figures to be the kind of slot target who could thrive in a Kyle Shanahan offense.

Justifying this draft spot, however, will be tricky as Pearsall competes for passes with Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle. While his arrival provides some flexibility for the future as Aiyuk heads into the final year of his contract while seeking an extension, he might be a bit of a luxury for a team that appears so close to finally reaching the Super Bowl summit. And given the abundance of promising receivers still yet to hear their names called, San Francisco might have been wise to look elsewhere with its top choice or trade back.

6. Xavier Worthy, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 28 overall)

If Worthy can bring back a big-play dynamic to a Chiefs attack that had grown more methodical in the latest chapter of Patrick Mahomes' career, this pick will have been well worth it. But that's an unreasonable expectation for a 165-pound pass catcher in his rookie season. While Worthy can open things up with his record 4.21-second speed in the 40-yard dash, defenses have long guarded against giving Mahomes many opportunities to throw deep.

With a suspension likely looming for Rashee Rice after his arrest stemming from a high-speed car crash, Kansas City could now be counting on Worthy and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown as its top targets beyond Travis Kelce. The two diminutive wideouts can hardly be considered consistent, and the Chiefs could have problems keeping drives alive when facing physical secondaries. Given Worthy's unreliability at the catch point and in traffic, the Chiefs will likely have to scheme a lot of looks for him in the early going.

7. Xavier Legette, WR, Carolina Panthers (No. 32 overall)

Securing top talent at receiver was a pressing priority for Carolina after Bryce Young's disastrous debut season. In the 6-1, 221-pound Legette, the Panthers add a new flavor for a group that includes the more modestly built Adam Thielen and Diontae Johnson.

Yet Legette's one year of production and lack of precision as a route-runner leaves a sense of unease about how his game will translate off the bat, especially if Young is gun-shy in attacking downfield. Fair to wonder if more suitable solutions might have been waiting in Texas' Adonai Mitchell and Georgia's Ladd McConkey, both players who can create separation easily with their crisp route-running while still threatening defenses at every level.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 NFL draft most questionable picks: QBs, Cowboys lead way