RENTON — Preseason games are meaningless wastes of time that primarily serve to put extra money in the owners’ pockets.
Unless a former first-round pick plays poorly. Then in the eyes of the public, preseason games are borderline apocalyptic.
This appears to be the case for Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny, the 27th overall selection in the 2018 draft who is rapidly eliciting the dreaded “bust” accusations.
In Seattle’s Week 2 preseason loss to Minnesota Sunday, Penny had six carries for negative two yards. That puts his preseason total at 13 yards on 12 carries, which is about what you’d expect if you had Justin Britt at tailback.
So what does it all mean? Can we say that Penny was a gaffe of a first-round selection?
Probably … but not because of what we’ve seen over the past couple weeks.
There’s no doubt that Penny’s preseason production has been uninspiring so far. Sunday’s performance was particularly fruitless, as he was hit in the backfield on all six runs.
But we’re also talking about a total of 13 carries behind the backup offensive line. How much can you really glean from that?
Great running backs have had absentee games amid some of their best years. In the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning season, Marshawn Lynch had a 17-carry, 43-yard day in his first game, an eight-carry, 23-yard day in his eighth, a 16-carry, 45-yard day in his 12th, and a 16-carry, 47-yard day in his 14th.
Obviously, all of those performances are vastly superior to what Penny has achieved over the past couple weeks. But it is the preseason of a second-year player.
Rushing to judgment is probably a bit premature. Penny, unsurprisingly, would concur.
“I can’t judge my game after what happened last week. I mean, everybody was watching,” Penny said. “That’s the way the NFL goes. I mean, it’s not over yet. I’m young. I’m fresh. I just got to keep going. I can’t let that bother me.”
Penny, remember, led the Seahawks’ running backs with 4.9 yards per carry last season. His workload wasn’t anywhere near that of lead tailback Chris Carson, who amassed 1,151 yards on 247 rushes (4.7 yards per carry), but he had his moments when given a chance. There was the 12-carry, 108-yard game vs. the 49ers midseason. There was the a seven-carry, 65-yard game vs. San Francisco three weeks later, and then an eight-carry, 44-yard game vs. the Vikings which was cut short by injury.
For the year, he ended up with 419 yards on 85 carries as the No. 2 back. Not eye-popping, but respectable. Are those numbers suddenly invalidated based on two poor showings during the exhibition season?
Asked about what he has taken from Penny this preseason, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was predictably supportive.
“He’s doing fine. He’s been great. That game didn’t show it, but he did well when he had his chances,” Carroll said, adding that Penny’s pass protection has vastly improved since last season. “He’s had a lot of plays where he hasn’t had much space.”
Are we going to see him get more opportunities behind the starting offensive line?
“I’m not worried about that,” answered Carroll. “I’m not evaluating him in that sense. I know what he can do.”
Given Carson’s impact last season, it does appear that Penny was taken too high — especially considering most draft boards had him going around the third round. In fact, there’s a philosophy that just about any running back taken in the first round is a waste of a pick given the nature of today’s game.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Penny still can’t be an asset to the team. It doesn’t mean he can’t make some critical third-down contributions or post serviceable numbers should Carson get hurt. His preseason has been shoddy, but his résumé isn’t blank.
It would be interesting to see what Penny can do behind quality protection vs. the Chargers on Saturday. Even if Carroll said his evaluation of Penny is independent of who’s blocking for him, getting that chance would be a truer test of his progress.
Even if he doesn’t get that opportunity, though, making a categorical determination of Penny’s worth would be foolish at this point. Players can dominate the preseason and end up useless once the games start to count. They can also struggle in the preseason and end up productive.