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We need to have a talk about Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny

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Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

When the Seattle Seahawks bulldozed their way into the NFC Wild Card spot with a 10-6 record in the 2018 regular season, they did so on the back of a top tier quarterback able to deliver his team from the 3rd & long situations in which the running game so often stranded the offense.

Chris Carson and Mike Davis led the way, combining for 1,665 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Add in the production that youngster Rashaad Penny added when he was given a shot, and it added up to the most prolific rushing offense in the NFL in 2018. Now, we’re not here to debate whether or not the rushing game is inherently inefficient or whether the Seahawks should throw the ball more, we’re here to discuss something else. It’s time to start asking the hard questions about Rashaad Penny.

Everyone’s definition of a bust is likely a little different and nuanced in such as way as that there will not be complete agreement. That said, my purpose today is not to declare one way or the other regarding Penny, it’s to start to ask the questions surrounding his on field performance that may lead us to an answer at some point in the future. The reason there’s no point in determining whether Penny is a bust right now is because the simple fact of the matter is that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Penny has the tenth highest cap hit of all Seattle offensive players, and every penny of his $2,446,690 cap hit in 2019 is fully guaranteed. Beyond that, as is seen in the table pulled from which is pictured below, not only is Penny’s 2019 cap hit fully guaranteed, his entire $2,936,028 cap hit for 2020, along with $580,000 in 2021 base salary are fully guaranteed as well. Those guarantees come thanks to Penny’s status as a first round pick and make it extremely likely that he will be afforded every opportunity to perform in the seasons to come.

That leads us to a point where we can ask what Penny does well, and the answer to that question is simple. Penny has an explosive burst and quickness that serve him extremely well in the open field. Against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 of the preseason, he showed off his open field skills on a twelve yard reception on a 3rd & long wide receiver screen.

That’s the same kind of open field maneuvering and quick area burst that he displayed on multiple occasions in 2018. He showed that kind of burst in getting to the corner against the Green Bay Packers.

It’s the kind of burst he showed against the Los Angeles Rams.

It’s the kind of burst he showed to squeeze through to the second level against the Arizona Cardinals.

It’s the kind of burst that allowed him to score on this run against the San Francisco 49ers.

And I could go on, but I feel like the point has been sufficiently made. However, on the flip side, the issue is when Penny doesn’t make it to the outside. This is an issue I’ve covered before, so I won’t harp on it in great detail here, and I’ll simply be providing the Reader’s Digest version.

It’s simple: At this point in his career, Penny is phenomenal in space, but is a dud between the tackles. That’s what we saw in 2018 and that’s exactly what we’ve seen so far in the 2019 preseason. Thus, it’s only logical that the question that follows is therefore whether this is as good as it’s going to get, or if Penny will further develop.

It’s no secret that players take time to develop in the NFL, but running back is one of those positions where players typically either step in and immediately produce or they don’t. Obviously there are some exceptions, such as those where a back must learn how to run within a zone blocking scheme or where they are buried on the depth chart, but it’s not uncommon for running backs to put up big numbers early in their careers. At this point, this is what Penny looks like between the tackles, and it’s not pretty.

And that’s where he needs to improve. I know there’s been a lot of excuses thrown out for Penny in the wake of that performance against the Vikings, specifically regarding the fact that he was running behind the second team offensive line. Well, that’s all fine and good, outside of the fact that all three of the running backs behind Carson on the depth chart were running behind the same offensive line. Penny’s first carry came behind the first team line, while the next five were behind the same backups that Travis Homer and Xavier Turner ran behind. That line of Elijah Nkansah-Demetrius Knox-Joey Hunt-Jordan Roos-Marcus Martin is no different than the line behind which Turner and Homer put up far better numbers.

  • Penny: 6 carries, -2 yards, -0.3 ypc (Success Rate: 0%)
  • Homer: 4 carries, 16 yards, 4.0 ypc (Success Rate: 50%)
  • Turner: 2 carries, 13 yards, 6.5 ypc (Success Rate: 100%)

So, again, not making any declarations one way or another regarding Penny’s status as a bust because he’s a second year player who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But at what point does it become time to stop making excuses for a player who is underperforming relative to the other youngsters around him?