While he may not have been considered a first-round pick by all draft analysts, the San Diego State star put up some impressive numbers.
All the Seahawks really need to do to sell the team’s fan base on the selection of running back Rashaad Penny in the first round Thursday is hand out a March breakdown on Penny from the football analytic site Pro Football Focus.
In a piece titled “San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny — a first-round talent,’’ PFF analyst Sam Monson even threw out the idea that Penny might be better than Penn State’s Saquon Barkely, who went second overall to the New York Giants.
“Penny is a prototypical NFL back who excels both on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield. He may not have quite the same dynamism as a receiver as Barkley does, but he does have Barkley beat in some ways on the ground,’’ Monson wrote, then adding “Penny also led the draft class in elusive rating – PFF’s rushing metric that attempts to distil what a back did independent of the blocking that was given to him by looking at broken tackles and yards after contact. Penny broke 80 tackles on the ground last season and two more as a receiver. That figure was by far the most of anybody in this draft class, more than 20 clear of the rest of the field.’’
So enough said?
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Well, right now the Seattle fan base may be as skeptical of the team’s moves as at any time during the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era given the fall in 2017 to 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and an offseason that has been dominated mostly by shedding some of the Seahawks’ best-known players.
Nobody questioned taking a running back in the wake of a season in which Seattle’s leading rusher as a tailback was Mike Davis with 240 yards and got just one rushing touchdown from someone other than quarterback Russell Wilson.
But since few saw the pick of the 5-10, 220-pound Penny at number 27 overall coming, some wondered why Penny and not two bigger-name running backs who were still on the board in LSU’s Derrius Guice and Georgia’s Sony Michel, who would go a few minutes later at number 31 to New England.
Schneider and Carroll, though, were ready with answers.
Schneider, in fact, said the Seahawks were ready to take Penny at 18 had a trade not materialized with Green Bay to move down to 27 and get a third-rounder and sixth-rounder in return (while also giving up a seventh). Schneider also said a team he wouldn’t name called after Seattle took Penny and asked if he’d be available in a trade, something he said had never happened before his his GM career. “Pretty cool,” he said.
The unnamed team was apparently enamored with Penny for all the same reasons Seattle was — he proved durable at San Diego State, playing in 51 games during his four years with the Aztecs and leading all of college football last year with 2,248 yards; he showed enough receiving ability that he can play all three downs; and he had seven career kickoff returns for touchdowns, tying an FBS record, giving Seattle another option alongside Tyler Lockett, who, by the way, is also entering the final year of his rookie contract.
“Speed, durability, humble,’’ Carroll said. “…Whatever we want, he’ll do. His special teams (talents), so unique, he’ll be able to help take the burden off of Tyler at times. … he’s such an exciting player, so versatile and so dynamic that we know every time he gets his hands on the ball, he can score a TD. That’s in the running game and the passing game, he’s very gifted at catching the football and running routes as well. So we know the run game will help every aspect of our team. Helps defense, special teams … it’s a really exciting pick, can’t wait to get him here, get going and start fitting him in.’’
Seattle can use all of that to add to a backfield that consisted of just four tailbacks before Thursday — Davis, Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic.
Carson and Prosise were also drafted to much excitement by Carroll the last two years. But each also missed most of last season with injuries, which have dogged Seattle at the tailback spot the last three seasons.
Asked if durability was a key attraction to Penny, Schneider said “yeah, absolutely.’’
Schneider also noted that the fact that Penny was a fulltime starter for just one season last year at San Diego State while having played behind Donnel Pumphrey previously means “the guy doesn’t have as much wear and tear (he had 488 career carries at SDSU, 289 last season).
And Schneider said not to worry about worries about the level of competition at San Diego State, noting how well Penny performed at the Senior Bowl (he could also have just mentioned Marshall Faulk, a former SDSU star now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
It was all enough to make Penny just the third tailback taken in the first round in team history, the others being Curt Warner in 1983 (third overall) and Shaun Alexander in 2000 (19th).
Many may debate the value of taking a running back in the first round, but Seattle couldn’t have done better with those two — Alexander is the leading rusher in team history and Warner third.
It’ll take a long time to know if Penny can live up to that kind of legacy.
But given what happened to Seattle’s running game last season, simply scoring a few touchdowns and staying upright all 16 games might be dividend enough in 2018.