Towing the Line: Khari Demos Talks College Football Weeks 11 & 12

Khari Demos joins Matt Waldman’s RSP site this season to profile college football’s trenches while keeping an eye on standout offensive skill players.  This week, Washington’s LT  Troy Fautanu and QB Michael Penix, Jr.

Troy Fautanu, LT #55, Washington

The Henderson, NV native is one of those tweener prospects who may find his spot in the NFL to be more team-specific than he does in college football. In addition to starting 24 games at left tackle, Fautanu also has two career starts at guard.

He reminds me a lot of Rashawn Slater as a prospect; the 2021 second-team All-Pro had many questions as to whether he would be a better fit at guard or tackle in the NFL. With a nearly identical frame from a measurables standpoint (6-foot-4, 317 pounds) the 2022 second-team All-Pac 12 selection has the flexibility to play either spot at the next level.

Personally, he looks small for a tackle, so I’d stick him at guard. But seeing some of the blocks he makes, I could understand a team wanting him to staying at that tackle spot.

Right off the snap, you can tell that Fautanu feels comfortable in pass protection at LT. I like the inside stab he sends here to help his guard before working back out to the blitzing backer.

He has a pretty nice anchor for a guy who is slightly undersized at tackle, all while doing this against potential fellow first-round pick Jonah Ellis.

But like I said before, these are the types of plays that worry me about him playing tackle. Ultimately, it’s not like he “lost” this rep, but I will say it can be an uphill climb at times like this once he sees defenders with this type of length and reach on a consistent basis.

Fautanu may have to do more position blocking in the run game being that undersized LT, but I think he also showed he can be capable of getting a lot of movement when needed, too.

He is such a great athlete in space, though, which I think an NFL team would be smart to utilize once he gets to the next level.

Being so fluid when pulling like this and still having an understanding of who to pick up at the second level is an underrated skill that many teams should be advocating to add to their rosters.

And don’t let the undersized frame fool you; Fautanu showed he can bring it in the run like he does to help Dillon Johnson hit paydirt for the first score of the game.

When given the opportunity, he showed he has more than enough strength and torque to be able to send some defenders to IHOP.

Although this play didn’t come back to bite Fautanu, this is the type of technique that will get him bullied if he doesn’t break habits like these now while playing for Washington.

And I use the term “bullied,” because his undersized stature puts him in positions at times where he gets moved around a bit by defenders.

But what I will say, though, is he can rely on his mental capacity to keep himself in the fight.

Being able to pick up this blitz after the stunt the Utes defense sent shows just how smart Fautanu is. I think what also shows in his pass pro is that he has a natural feel and understanding on the edge, even sending guys to the ground when he gets the upper hand there.

Just look at how he guides Connor O’Toole to the outside on this pass set.

Even as tough as some of the moments seem with Fautanu, he shows more times than not that he’s capable of not letting his diminutive size as an LT hold him down for too long.

The thing I like about Fautanu’s position blocking is he knows exactly how to angle himself so he can create lanes for backs like Johnson to follow behind.

No, this is not a pancake block, but what he does here is cut O’Toole off enough to make open space for Johnson to find the end zone again.

He seemed to find a comfortability in handling O’Toole in pass protection, as well as in the run game, which was a welcomed sign after some of the moments he had early on.

He then showed his mettle in taking on Elliss later on in the game, which he showcased in several instances.

Just look at some of this movement Fautanu is able to get here, which he put on display again against O’Toole later on.

I mean, just look at this down block here he has on him. As the game neared its end as well, he had a key block on 4th down to help the Huskies convert and push their mark on the season to 9-0.

Is he a tackle? Is he a guard? I guess the NFL team that drafts him will decide. I think Fautanu’s explosiveness and ability to move make him an excellent fit in some of the more movement-based zone-run offenses, like the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, and Indianapolis Colts.

His play as of late and Washington’s success this season has many looking at Fautanu as one of the best OL prospects in this year’s draft. There may be questions about what position he’s going to play. But the biggest thing is that Fautanu is a football player; his position will figure itself out. Just getting that guy on the field, however, is more important than what position he’ll be slotting into.

Michael Penix Jr., QB #9, Washington

As Mr. Waldman, Felix Sharpe, and I discussed on a podcast episode this fall, I feel that Penix is the QB prospect in this coming class who has the lowest bust potential. I love Caleb Williams, but he can be a high-variance player at times. Drake Maye is an elite talent as well, but questions about how he processes reads on the fields have come about. Bo Nix has put together a stellar 2023 season, but it’s hard to ignore some of the bad decision-making that plagued him at Auburn.

For Penix, he’s a cool customer who can move around as needed, with a fairly strong arm, and wonderful anticipation on his throws. After a superb showing in 2022, he has put on a show in 2023.

Pennix’s 2023 season has been so strong that a game where he threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns in a win against fellow-ranked Pac-12 Conference rival Utah was one of his “off” games. It was such a “lowlight” for him, that Nix has even jumped ahead of him in the Heisman Trophy odds. But if you dig deeper into the tape, not all of the incompletions were Penix’s fault, specifically several drops leading to his season-high 18 incompletions.

Let’s kick things off with Penix’s rushing score. I know there are many concerns over the plethora of injuries Penix has sustained over the years. But one thing that stands out to me about this play is his willingness to tuck and run when his number is called.

I’m not saying he’s going to be taking off on defenses like Lamar Jackson, but him showing he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands still. Boy, has he come a long way from the play that put him on the national scene back in his days at Indiana.

I think this play here really shows Penix’s arm strength and poise.

Even as he’s facing pressure, the Tampa, FL native sends a flick of the wrist to find Ja’Lynn Polk downfield. He targeted Polk again later on in the game, and I know it didn’t result in a completion, I like the placement and anticipation Penix displays on this throw.

Now this right here was not Penix’s best throw on the day. The saving grace here, though, is that he made the accurate read, looking for Devin Culp down the left seam.


Great read, he’s just got to take a little air off the throw itself. Penix had another incompletion down the left sideline when searching for his go-to target Rome Odunze. This looks more like a misread of the ball in the air on the part of Odunze, but I also think some of these downfield throws are the ones offensive coordinators would want to see him connect on more frequently.

Two things about Penix’s game that I love are his patience and calm demeanor. Take this 3rd-and-7 conversion here; he could have very easily forced the ball downfield to one of his star receivers. But instead, he took what the defense gave him, found Johnson underneath on the check-down, and kept the Huskies drive moving along.

On his next throw, he’s able to stripe one into Jack Westover over the middle. I think this type of intermediate-area throw is where Penix thrives. Just look at Rookie of the Year leader CJ Stroud and his game; yes, he can make throws downfield to attack defenses. But like the Houston Texans rookie QB, Penix does the same by continuously attacking that area of the field with precision.

This may be the play of the day for Penix. After initially looking to find a man from the trips side in this five-wide look, he goes to the backside to find Odunze streaking down the right sideline for the tuddy.

To be able to move off his first reads and put this type of throw up so late in the progression just shows what Penix’s ability to read defenses is. I love his patience once again and the fact that even with pressure in his face, he did not get flustered. His calmness in the pocket and willingness to stand in there is what has allowed him to build a 59-15 TD-to-INT ratio over the last two seasons.

I like that Penix keeps his eyes downfield when he’s scrambling. Even though this did not result in a completion, being able to avoid the sack, getting out of the pocket to avert pressure, and having the creativity in mind to be able to find Johnson while he was on the move, Penix was thinking on his feet with this throw.

And having the different arm angles that he does, being able to be a creator on the move can coincide with this skillset nicely.

I think Penix can reign that in sometimes because having a rifle can sometimes have you relying on your bullets a little too much.

But being able to have so many different clubs in his bag, is a good problem to have. Especially when a guy can take the driver out of the bag when needed too.

The one thing that was unfortunate about this game was the fact that even when Penix was patient, his receivers let him down at times with drops.

He kept that same patience when finding Westover on this 4th-down conversion.

Even though the throw was a little high and held the TE back from picking up some YAC, he again was able to read through his progressions and find the right outlet on the throw.

And that patience paid off once again, this time influencing safety Cole Bishop with his eyes, before letting it rip to Odunze on the post-route score. Look at how effortless these types of throws are for Penix. But what’s most encouraging is that he was able to shrug off some of the inconsistencies in his accuracy from earlier in the game to start connecting on these deep shots.

One thing that I think also applies to Penix’s game is his scheme versatility. I think he can play in a quicker, “get the ball out” type of passing attack that utilizes quick outs like this toss to Polk.

Need Penix to connect on longer-developing routes? He can do that too, like here on this 4th-down connection to Bernard.

And Penix is not afraid to attack either side of the field, an encouraging sign that could ultimately lead to him making more full-field reads in offense. Plus his comfort in the face of pressure, OCs will have to take that into consideration when conjuring up plays that may take five- or seven-step drops.

Penix’s injury history is definitely a concern, but what I will say is he’s been unscathed throughout the past two seasons, which have been by far his two best at the collegiate level. Even considering them all, I think his play as a Huskie will put an NFL team in the situation of reviewing whether or not his all-world skills are worth the risk of him getting reinjured.

Maybe this leads to him being considered later in the first round or even into Day 2 from there. But maybe this just emboldens a team to really build up its offensive line so that Penix is ultra-protected.

All I know is he’s got a lot of eyes on him in the scouting community, and for good reason. Intangibles-wise too, he seems like the right guy to be the face of a franchise. Whether it was his speech going into the fourth quarter of the Utah game, or him taking care of his offensive linemen with NIL money, the guy is hard not to root for. Good luck to you Mr. Penix, and we’ll see what you have left up your sleeve as we get closer to closing out  2023.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

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If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat the sexual abuse of children. 

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