BY Art Thiel 11:58PM 04/26/2018

Thiel: Seahawks think they have gold with Penny

As usual, the Seahawks traded back in the first round, and again pulled a surprise — RB Rashaad Penny of San Diego St., who does well what Marshawn Lynch did best.

Rashaad Penny led the NCAA in rushing last season. / San Diego State University

Since every running back in their future will be compared to Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks figured Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft they may as well fire up the replicant machine.

Here’s the key feat in understanding what Rashaad Penny does well that Lynch did best in his five superhero years in Seattle: Making something out of nothing.

Pro Football Focus reported an obscure stat that the semi-obscure San Diego State rusher was best at in this draft class of 58 running backs: He gained 3.32 yards after contact at or behind the line of scrimmage. For comparison, the top running back chosen, freakish Penn State star Saquon Barkley, was 57th at 0.46.

That’s no guarantee of anything as a pro, because there are no guarantees in this enterprise. But it’s a great indicator that Penny can provide what the Seahawks lacked the past two seasons — Lynch’s remorseless toughness.

“I’m jacked about this guy,” said coach Pete Carroll. Sure, Carroll is always jacked, but he and GM John Schneider were almost vibrating with enthusiasm about Penny helping return the Seahawks to a fundamental that was lost to an embarrassing degree.

“He’s such an exciting player — so versatile so dynamic, running and catching,” Carroll said. “We know the running game helps every aspect of the team — defense, special teams.

“Barkley is a guy we haven’t seen in years (in the NFL). This guy is right there.”

At 5-11 and 220 pounds with a 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds, he compares almost identically with Lynch. And while that’s a huge burden of expectations for a guy who really only started in his senior year for the Aztecs, even the hint of a threat from a running back would be a major uptick for the Seahawks offense. The Seahawks last season had a single rushing touchdown from a running back.

“He has big-play ability,” Carroll said. “That makes such a difference when defending him. He’s going to bring something really explosive. No limitations.”

Well, there is one thing — he’s lousy in pass blocking.

“Definitely I got to work on my pass protection,” Penny said by teleconference from the family home in Norwalk, CA. “I’m getting better daily. I know I got to protect that million-dollar man, Russell Wilson.”

Stuck for three seasons behind Donell Pumphrey, drafted by the Eagles in 2017, Penny was the NCAA’s leading rusher with 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-America selection and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, but didn’t get much exposure in the Mountain West Conference.

The relative absence of hype seemed to bother him a bit, but that went away Thursday night when the first-round call came from the Seahawks to a home filled with about 50 family members and friends.

“I came from a realistic program with a realistic head coach,” he said. “He always said I was going to be the best player on the field. But then you start looking at the (mock drafts) and projections. I started  to realize they don’t mean anything.

“Now that it’s real, it doesn’t matter what the projections say.”

Schneider said the Seahawks were ready to take Penny with their No. 18 selection in the first round. But they also wanted to trade down in the round to add choices in the second or third round.

The chance came when Green Bay wanted to move up from 27th to select Louisville CB Jaire Alexander. The Seahawks agreed to the swap, gaining a third-round pick (76th overall) and a sixth-rounder (186th) — rounds in which they previously had nothing.

The move was validated moments later when a team called wanting to know if the Seahawks would be willing to trade Penny.

“I’ve never really experienced that,” Schneider said, a bit smugly.

Schneider and Carroll also made a big deal about Penny’s personality, saying he was “humble,” “down to earth,” and “easy-going.”

That marks a departure from Lynch, who was an anti-authority figure that the players loved and the coaches often resented, but had to tolerate.

Penny’s selection also came a year after the Seahawks ignored the red flags around Michigan State DE Malik McDowell, who has yet to play a down after injuring himself in an ATV accident. The Seahawks were in no position to accept another knucklehead.

“There’s never been a year I’ve coached that character wasn’t one of the most important elements,” Carroll said defensively. “To find a guy who has his world squared away and knows who he is, gives us one more chance to be that much closer to where we want to be.”

With six rounds to go — rounds two and three Friday starting at 4 p.m., and the remaining four rounds starting at 9 a.m. Saturday — it’s way early to say how close the Seahawks are. But Pro Football Focus thinks Penny is as good as any back in the draft:

The bottom line is that Penny has tape that stacks up with the best running backs in this draft class, and while names like Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Saquon Barkley are getting all of the first-round talk, Penny leads them all in several notable statistical categories.

As to whether he can follow closely in the steps of the Beast, that likely will await a further report on the quality of his crotch-grab.



  • Ron

    How would his stats compare to those other RBs if he had competed in a comparable conference?

    • art thiel

      Obviously the MWC is second-tier, but Schneider and others say he tore up the Senior Bowl.

    • Kirkland

      Link to his combine highlights, for what it’s worth:

    • WestCoastBias79

      He did absolutely take it to Stanford last year. I watched that game and had one of those ‘how did that guy end up at San Diego State?’ moments. When they read his name last night, I was stoked. He looked like a beefier Bryce Love in that game.

  • jafabian

    Instead of going for the best pass rusher the Hawks took the best athlete available, learning from their mistakes of previous drafts. Penny looks like a North South kind of runner but that won’t mean much if there’s no holes to run through. Hope they find a fullback for the upcoming season.

    • art thiel

      A fullback would be a worthy get. Marcel Reece was a real asset a couple of years ago.

  • Alan Harrison

    I like the pick. Yes, he would have been available in Round 2 (I don’t believe John Schneider when he says that a team wanted to trade for him), but the Hawks didn’t have a Round 2 pick. So they follow their plan, which is “get our guy,” no matter where he is on other people’s boards. It’s a Bruce Irvin, James Carpenter kind of move, which is iffy. But if they can get a pass-rusher at 3, we’ll get better.

    • Effzee

      I don’t think John would just make stories up.

    • art thiel

      I doubt Schneider is lying about Penny being pursued. It’s a small thing unworthy of fabrication. I do think they could have moved back again safely to still get Penny.

  • Effzee

    Love the pick.

    • art thiel

      Careful. Optimism isn’t trendy around the Seahawks.

      • Ken S.

        If I weren’t an optimist I wouldn’t be a Seahawks fan. As for the Mariners…

        • Husky73

          I remain the Mariner Optimist.

  • coug73

    High stakes drama. Will Mr. Penny pay out for the Hawks or will the poor offensive line play tarnish Mr. Penny’s chances of success. Good luck to Mr. Penny the challenge is great.

    • art thiel

      The Seahawks upgraded with Fluker, and are sticking with the four returnees. But if Ifedi continues to lead the league in penalties, the presumption is George Fant is ready to succeed him at RT.

  • tor5

    Of course, every single pick is a gamble, but I can’t fault the Hawks on this one. With a few caveats, everything seems to point to great potential. I too really liked the yards-after-contact stat, because last season that contact reliably came about a yard behind the line of scrimmage.

    • art thiel

      I’ve always said Lynch’s greatest outcomes were turning two-yard losses into three-yard gains.

  • Parts

    ok, I like what I see. Let’s hope he lives up to expectations.

    • art thiel

      Carroll and Schneider also praised his durability and low mileage for a senior. That’s half the attraction.

      • Ken S.

        Thats the first thing I noted about Penny. Hardly used! He might be able to play an extra season or two if he’s durable.

  • ss

    He’ll need to be able to “Make something out of nothing”… like when he gets the handoff and has two D linemen with their arms around him as he gets the ball because of the phantom Seahawk o line.

    • art thiel

      The phantoms are scheduled to return a year smarter. If Ifedl isn’t, Fant will replace him.

      • Theyfinallyfiredcable

        Art , that’s not necessarily reassuring .. that poor man , talk about thrown into the fire .

        • art thiel

          If you seek help managing your emotions, I recommend your local cannabis shop, not me.

  • Kirkland

    The yardage total, weak conference or not, suggests he’s able to fill a feature back, 30 carries a game role. Perfect for Carroll’s system. This should also keep Wilson from thinking he has to save the world on every play.

    • art thiel

      As mentioned above, I could see Penny and Carson sharing 35 or so carries, which means fresher legs in the fourth quarter.

  • WestCoastBias79

    The only running back I can remember in the past few years that even remotely lived up to his pre-draft hype is Zeke Elliot, and he’s playing behind a beastly O-Line. The fact that all of the ESPN prognosticators were baffled is probably a good sign. These guys don’t watch Pac-12 football, so they’re definitely not watching Mountain West.

    If he’s even in the realm as good as they say, and Chris Carson is healthy, they have a couple of battering rams in the backfield. Last Aztec running back taken in the first round was Marshall Faulk. Let’s hope history repeats.

    • art thiel

      Lots of speculation that Penny could have been taken anywhere in the second round. But the Seahawks don’t have a second, so they overpaid a bit to take him at 27.

      They largely missed on Christine Michael with a second, but Penny seems as if he has zero attitude problems. Penny and Carson should make an effective 1-2, the the fashion of the Falcons tandem.

  • Centiorari

    While the pick was unexpected, I like the pick. Even though he came from a Division I team he did play against some good run defense teams along the way including a nice performance at the senior bowl. I didn’t know about the behind the line production stat but his forced missed / broken tackles was the best in college football last year; that is something every fan can get excited to see on their team.

    • WestCoastBias79

      He absolutely took it to Stanford, and they were pretty stout on the defensive front last year.

    • art thiel

      Given the O-line, tackle-breaking is the key to the Seahawks ground-gain kingdom.

  • Husky73

    Hmmm….I’m flipping around the internet today and site after site gives the Seahawks a D grade (or worse) for this pick.

    • rosetta_stoned

      That’s because it was a reach at the spot he was picked.

    • art thiel

      I do so enjoy grading systems that have no information to judge an outcome. Much like the five-star system in HS recruiting. The most worthless information in mainstream sports media.

      • Husky73

        Teams (college and pro) pay a lot of attention and money to those ratings and the people who put them together.

    • Husky73

      Just looked at another site…Oakland and Seattle the two worst drafts. Seems to be pretty much the consensus.

  • woofer

    The ability to gain yards after being hit behind the line is certainly a talent that Seahawks backs need to have. Plus the fact that he can’t block means that, in a pinch, he could fill in at tight end.

    • art thiel

      Non-blocking TEs are not a Seahawks rule, merely a custom and tradition.

      • Ken S.

        Tradition only because of the talent they tend to go for. A good all-round TE (including blocking) isn’t that hard to find.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    The only other times Seattle selected a running back in the 1st round were Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander . If this kid even sniffs that kind of success , I’m ecstatic .

    I would’ve taken Guice , but what do I know ..

    • art thiel

      Guice has off-field problems that probably didn’t allow him to reach the Seahawks’ new, higher bar for draft candidates.