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Rashaad Penny, newly minted in time for big offseason decision by Seahawks

Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Warning: This piece my contain information that is unpalatable to those with long memories, propensity to hold grudges, or any who are otherwise predisposed towards running back hatred. Reader discretion is advised.

What follows are words that I never thought possible, let alone anything I’d ever write. After all, this was only four months ago:

Rashaad Penny could be better than Chris Carson, and therefore the Seattle Seahawks have an offseason decision to make that has now become rather fascinating.

We’ll go over some numbers momentarily, but essentially Seattle (I refuse to predict John Schneider at the moment) has their big-play running back that they thought they’d have in Penny. It took him three and a half years to do it. He’s already been injured - multiple times - again this year. Carson remains signed.

However, apparently, if he’s not overweight in camp or (significantly) injured, Penny can put on a show.

Welcome to the first edition of What Do You Do With?’

First, an acknowledgement that something is different. For his first two years, Penny was like the package you tried to order for Christmas that’s still sitting in China - going nowhere. Absurd amounts of one-yard runs.

Penny has shown in 2021 a confidence he didn’t display really at any point for the bulk of his career. The hesitation is largely gone, especially when coupled with his commitment to actually run the designed play. Most times he’d either hit his blocker or bounce outside; hitting something resembling a gap was a rarity.

I liked this play from the Chicago Bears game as an example of what the shiny new Penny, vintage 2021, is capable of:

He displays patience for the gap to open while continuing to push straight ahead. The ludicrous stutter step is gone. There never was much of a hole, but he found it, and only then did he bounce outside after hitting the second level. The rest of the run displays why the team was high on Penny. This is good stuff. He makes a very decisive cut that causes S Eddie Jackson to slip, breaks one arm tackle, steams away from *checks notes* Bruce Irvin (alright) before a final burst sends him to bounce off the last safety and end out of bounds.

What’s that, you expected stats? Sit with this a moment, because it’s uncomfortable.

Rashaad Penny now has four complete games (>10 carries) “better” than Chris Carson’s “best” game.

This is going to be by Yards Per Carry, and it’s interesting because it’s not close. Carson’s two most efficient games were 12-80-1 against the Minnesota Vikings, and 16-105-0 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Editor’s note: one carry gained 60 yards). Those are 6.67 and 6.56 YPA games, the best of Carson’s career.

Penny now has seven games better than that, but four where we ran for 12 or more carries, finishing with 9.21, 9.0, 8.56, and 7.9 YPA.

Derrick Henry was the NFL’s lead rusher for another three weeks after his 2021 season ended, and his best game this year was 7.15 YPA.

The point of all that is to say this - when Penny is on, he’s really good. Better than Carson. Ok, “better.” There are things that Carson can do that Penny has not yet shown, mainly working within the confines of the designed plays and making things out of nothing. Penny has never really done a ton in the passing game, while Carson’s been pretty good. But as a runner and gift set, Penny has been a much bigger Boom paired with a much bigger Bust for three years. He can outrun those guys in the second level with far greater consistency than Carson.

Here’s every Penny carry from the loss to the Bears:

First Half

  • 3 yards
  • 3 yards
  • 1 yard loss
  • 25 yards
  • [the next play] 5 yards
  • [[the next play again]] DeeJay Dallas no gain, get that weak crap out of here, son
  • 2 yards
  • 3 yards
  • 2 yards
  • 6 yards
  • 3 yards

Second Half

  • 6 yards
  • 2 yards
  • 32 yards
  • 3 yards
  • 32 yards
  • 7 yards
  • 2 yards
  • 2 yards

Three explosive plays of that nature on 17 carries is incredible production.

So here are the two main questions facing the Seattle Seahawks (not Schneider) next year:

  1. Are 3-yards gains enough of an improvement over his previous 0.5-yard gains to keep pushing the “hope he gets lucky” button on Penny? If he’s capable of popping off multiple big runs a game - he is - then the question becomes what level of run game is sustainable, while waiting for the big play? If a two-to-three yard average plus the occasional jackpot is sufficient to the philosophy, the team should give him another look.
  2. Do you have any confidence whatsoever in his ability to stay healthy?

And to this question, my answer is an undeniable, no I do not. I have no confidence in a guy who started the season injured for a third time, and in the same season ran two plays in Week 11 before hurting his hamstring. I do not think he has shown an ability to stay healthy, which would mean “thanks for your service” in a healthy organization.

Which, frankly, is not currently this organization.

Meaning whichever way the Seahawks decide will make a significant portion of the fanbase angry. That’s fun. If they sign him, he’s unproven, unreliable, taking carries from Carson, blah blah blah. If they don’t sign him and he rushes for 1,000 yards somewhere else.... ah, can you even imagine? Incredible.