Rashaad Penny: Late bloomer or latest Seahawks draft bust

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 03: Running back Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 03: Running back Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

Rashaad Penny has a tough road back to the field. Is he running out of time to prove he isn’t the latest first-pick draft bust of the Seahawks?

I’ll preface this diatribe, statement, whatever this is, by unequivocally saying that I was a big fan of the Seahawks pick of Rashaad Penny in 2018. It’s true that days before the draft I wrote there was no way Seattle would use a first-round pick on a running back. It’s also true that I liked the previous year’s offseason move to pick up Eddie Lacy. Given that background, I understand if you’d prefer to play some Candy Crush in lieu of reading further. I’ll try to make it worth your while.

While I am definitely a big fan of John Schneider, as is every 12 I know, I can’t dispute that the Seahawks have had their share of draft busts. Malik McDowell, anyone? Christine Michael ring a  bell? Trust me, I’m not knocking the Hawks overall draft day performance. This is also the brain trust that snagged players like J.R. Sweezy and Chris Carson in the seventh round. That takes a keen eye for talent, and both Schneider and Pete Carroll have it.

Rashaad Penny runs into roadblocks

So we turn back to Rashaad Penny. Most talking and/or writing heads said the Seahawks overreached badly when they took Penny in the first round. I’m the first to acknowledge there’s a huge difference between the college game and the pros, but it’s hard to overlook the combination of speed and power he brought to the field. A back that weighs in at 220 pounds, runs a 4.46, and leads the nation in missed tackles (86) certainly seems like a solid pick to me.

Rashaad Penny of the Seahawks
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – DECEMBER 02: Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

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And yet, Penny ran into roadblock after roadblock in Seattle. The player who suited up for 51 games in his collegiate career missed several weeks of camp and the preseason. His first-round status didn’t matter when he was battling injuries. When he finally got healthy, he was far behind the Seahawks backfield tandem of Chris Carson and Mike Davis. The rookie had a hard time working his way into the rotation.

Once Penny took the field, he looked alright. Not first-round great, no, but 4.9 yards per carry is a pretty good average, especially considering the state of the Seahawks offensive line in 2018. He improved on that performance in 2019 despite fewer carries. His average climbed to 5.7 yards, and his touchdowns doubled, from two to four. I’ll grant you that four isn’t a lot of scores, but on just 73 touches, it’s a solid scoring rate. 5.48 touchdowns per 100 attempts may not sound like a lot, but Chris Carson’s career rate is just 2.97 per 100 touches. Every 12 knows Shaun Alexander was God’s own scoring machine, but even his career rate is 4.66.

And then the injury bug bit again and bit hard. A torn ACL took Penny out for the season. It remains to be seen if he’ll still have the speed and especially the cutting ability when he finally does get back on the field. I’ll bet on Rashaad Penny again. No, he hasn’t exactly been Shaun Alexander or Curt Warner, I get that. He hasn’t even been Chris Carson, either.

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Rashaad Penny will have no shortage of competition when he does take the field, as Willie Keeler broke down in his excellent preview of the Seahawks backfield. Now he’ll have to contend with new Hawks stablemate Carlos Hyde, among others. Despite all the challenges, I still have faith in Penny. His career isn’t off to a terrific start, true. But let’s remember Shaun Alexander got one start as a rookie, and only had an end-of-the-road Ricky Watters as competition in his second season. Penny will be just fine, and so will the Seahawks.