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Let’s talk a little more about Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny

NFL: Preseason-Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday I took a surface level look at Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny and started to ask questions about his performance since being drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Some fans were quick to defend Penny and his performance to this point in his career, while others were more than ready to label him a bust. In spite of passionate arguments from both sides, I’m nowhere near ready to make a declaration one way or another simply because he’s still just a second year player and has shown flashes of specific skills that can be put to use in the NFL.

That said, today I want to dig a little bit deeper into a specific area of Penny’s game. Or rather, I’d like to dig a little deeper into his performance against different levels of competition, stepping all the way back to his college days. As I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the very first things I focus on when evaluating a player in college is the level of competition they faced. All prospects should perform better against lower levels of competition, and I’m in no way expecting players to consistently perform when they’re facing top level competition like Alabama or Clemson. That said, if a player consistently plays poorly against top level competition and quality tape against the highest level of opponents is hard to find, that would seem to be a huge red flag.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, performance against low level competition is interesting, but I am going to spend my time focusing on how a player performed against the highest levels of competition. Looking at the Jazz Ferguson example from Wednesday, there’s no question Ferguson has the ability to come down with fade routes and jump balls in the end zone against FCS level competition. The question is can he do it against NFL defensive backs, and the issue when it comes to answering this question when it comes to Ferguson is that there is no college tape of him doing this against top competition in college because every end zone route he was thrown was against an FCS defensive back.

Before jumping in and applying that to Penny, however, I want to take a moment and point out that I’m not the only one who does this. Here’s a video clip that is less than seven seconds long that I want everyone to watch at some point (sound on).

That clip is from the Do Your Job series on the New England Patriots and is a fantastic view into the world of NFL scouting. The full video is on YouTube, is less than fifteen minutes long, and is well worth the time spent viewing it for anyone who wants to better understand the process of scouting players.

In any case, getting into the details of what this means for Penny, here’s the gamelog from his 2017 season at San Diego State University.

Rashaad Penny 2017 gamelog

Opponent Rushes Yards YPC TD Run Defense Rank
Opponent Rushes Yards YPC TD Run Defense Rank
Cal-Davis 21 197 9.4 2 FCS
Arizona State 18 216 12.0 1 79
Stanford 32 175 5.5 1 68
Air Force 20 128 6.4 3 118
Northern Illinois 25 107 4.3 0 16
UNLV 27 170 6.3 2 123
Boise State 21 53 2.5 1 17
Fresno State 15 69 4.6 0 11
Hawaii 30 253 8.4 2 111
San Jose State 20 234 11.7 3 129
Nevada 24 222 9.3 2 110
New Mexico 22 203 9.2 2 55
Army 14 221 15.8 4 76
Total 289 2248 7.8 23 N/A

That’s a whole lot of numbers, and due to the fact that Penny played at a Group of Five school, a lot of performances against lower performing run defenses. Thus, let’s pare things down and focus only against run defenses ranked in the top 50. Coincidentally, every opponent with a run defense in the top 50 also happened to be in the top 20, and it’s immediately evident that his performance against these higher ranked defenses was sorely lacking.

Rashaad Penny 2017 gamelog against opponents with top 20 run defenses

Opponent Carries Yards YPC TD Run Defense Rank
Opponent Carries Yards YPC TD Run Defense Rank
Northern Illinois 25 107 4.3 0 16
Boise State 21 53 2.5 1 17
Fresno State 15 69 4.6 0 11
Total 61 229 3.8 1 N/A

I’m not going to dwell on these stats, so the short version is that there is one ugly game and two games that don’t do a lot to inspire confidence. Basically, against these opponents her put up 3.8 yards per carry.

In any case, there’s no need to focus solely on Penny’s college production because we have a full season of data on his ability to carry the ball against NFL defenses. Thus, let’s take a look at his 2018 gamelog and see how much better he performed against quality defenses.

Rashaad Penny 2018 gamelog for rushing

Opponent Att Yds YPC TD Rush Def DVOA
Opponent Att Yds YPC TD Rush Def DVOA
Denver 7 8 1.1 0 16
Chicago 10 30 3.0 0 2
Dallas 3 5 1.7 0 5
Arizona 9 49 5.4 0 29
Oakland 9 43 4.8 0 22
Los Angeles Chargers 4 11 2.8 0 10
Los Angeles Rams 12 108 9.0 1 27
Green Bay 8 46 5.8 0 23
Carolina 4 4 1.0 0 18
San Francisco 7 65 9.3 1 12
Minnesota 8 44 5.5 0 11
Arizona 4 6 1.5 0 29
Totals 85 419 4.9 2 N/A

Small sample caveats and arbitrary cutoff point and all that, but in his three games against run defenses with a top ten run defense DVOA, his performances were far from inspiring. On the flip side, the majority of the games where his performance was much better, including the games against the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and the first matchup with the Arizona Cardinals are all bottom 11 DVOA defenses.

Of course, worse performances against better defenses is what should be expected, and there’s nothing wrong with it. The issue here is exactly how poor the performances were against certain defenses, and what can be expected for 2019. Specifically, the Hawks start the season with two of their first three opponents being teams who finished the 2018 season ranked in the top 8 in run defense and sport a potentially dangerous offense. (Pittsburgh Steelers at 8 run defense DVOA and New Orleans Saints at 2 by run defense DVOA).

In short, we should get a chance early in the season to see what Penny can do against run defenses that could be near the top of the league.