The Rashaad Penny era in Seattle skidded to an unceremonious, whimpersome end on Tuesday with his move in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Which is too bad. Few Seahawks first-rounders have been as tantalizing on tape as Penny, whose jabbing cuts, exhilarating kick returns and obvious home run ability on every play caught the attention of Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Enough to goad them into a risky, upside-filled, but ultimately unwise decision to draft him 27th overall in 2018.
And then, once acquired, few Seahawks running backs have been as productive as Penny... when he saw the field.
The first real shame — there are two — is that when Penny played, he wrecked defenses with the game’s best. For a glorious stretch that was stupidly brief, he was a top 5 running back in the world. Why wouldn’t the Eagles want this guy after experiencing him firsthand?
All it took for the Eagles to sign Rashaad Penny was this playing against them back in 2019 pic.twitter.com/pG3RcaM0mz— The Game Day NFL (@TheGameDayNFL) March 14, 2023
He can cut, accelerate, stiff-arm, break tackles, and has a nose for the end zone unlike many Seahawks before him. (We’ll get to Shaun, promise.)
NextGen Stats made a graphic that still blows my mind; sorry in advance about the state of yours 15 seconds from now.
In 2021, Penny scored more touchdowns per rush than Joe Mixon, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry.
He was second in individual DVOA among running backs with at least 100 touches. He was sixth in DYAR despite being 43rd in rushing attempts. DVOA and DYAR are counting stats. He lapped guys with twice the carries.
All that said, I’m a big analytics guy but here’s a confession: I don’t really give a shit what your success rate is when you average 6.2 yards per carry. Ypc is a terrible stat in the same way passer rating sucks. However, when you have a 125 rating, you’re good, end of story. Don’t care if you got a little lucky along the way. Same as how ERA tells me nothing about a starting pitcher unless it’s like 1.80, in which case we know the dude can sling it with Cy Young.
So it means something when, as Sheil Kapadia points out:
Rashaad Penny:— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) March 15, 2023
1. Since 2000, there have been 247 RBs with at least 300 career carries. Among that group, his 5.7 YPC ranks 1st.
2. He has had one stretch in his career (5 seasons) where he's had at least 10 carries for 5 straight games.
Rashaad Penny was a gift. A treat. The real thing. Yes there’s another clip. Of course there’s another clip. Last one though.
AND YET, the move to draft Penny was foolish from the start and lived up to its “potential” to backfire. In large part because the guy missed as many games than he attended — a scant 42 in five seasons. You paid him $16 million and forfeited the right to draft someone special (the guy who went 32nd has made a splash or two, look it up).
Get one thing absolutely right: PCJS should never have picked Penny 27th overall. That doesn’t change the fact he was absolutely dominant when available. A true special talent, and those are words I use sparingly. Had Penny remained healthy, he might have become that most elusive of unicorns: a first-round running back who deserved the selection.
But the risk you took when drafting an injury-prone position with a typically short career came back to bite the Seahawks. That’s why they call it “risk.” Penny wasn’t worth the risk at the time, bad results followed bad process, and in due time he wasn’t worth the first-round investment, because they almost never are. You’ve heard the phrase before put I’ve put a new twist on it. Running backs don’t matter like they used to.
More research than is convenient to wield here has been poured into demonstrating the reduced importance of running backs. We can rehash all of it some other time, but consider two data points that forcefully make the case:
- Only 20 running backs presently make more than $4 million.
- In 2008, 13 running backs carried the ball 300 or more times. Then, between 2016 and 2022, only 12 total players cleared the same threshold. That’s right. More RBs got 300 carries in 2008 alone than in the past seven NFL seasons combined.
The game has changed, compensation has changed, rushing approaches have changed, and workloads have changed. Individual running backs matter less than a generation ago, not to bloggers in their mothers’ basements, but to NFL general managers and coaches.
The second real shame is that with their track record, Carroll and Schneider should have known better.
Marshawn Lynch — acquired via trade. He cost a fourth-rounder and a conditional pick.
Thomas Rawls — undrafted.
Chris Carson — seventh-round draftee.
Combined, those three studs produced an impressive resume: 2552-11,219-90-4.4, which looks really cool once you turn it into an average season and lay it out against Shaun Alexander’s average numbers.
They Were All Very Good
Without spending a draft pick in the first three rounds, the Seahawks found a Shaun Alexander by committee. (Minus a few touchdowns here or there, of course.) The Seahawks brass should know exactly how fungible running backs are, and how short-lived their careers can be. Rawls! Carson! Carroll and Schneider should know, from their own roster-building experience, how wasteful it would be to blow a top 50 pick on one.
Let alone to do it twice.
Here we sit, on the cusp of the draft, with a RB room down at the V-Mac best described as depleted. Travis Homer is a Bear, and good for him. Penny is an Eagle, which sounds awesome for him this coming season. Absent an extension, DeeJay Dallas is an unrestricted free agent in 2024. The Seahawks have Ken Walker, and he is sexplosive, yet there is only one of him, so they uh, need someone else to tote the rock from time to time. Love you to death, Nick Bellore, but no.
Here we sit, on the cusp of the draft, with not one, but two first-rounders burning a hole in Pete’s jeans (he is shirtless already). Not one, but two second-rounders are tucked in John’s boxing championship belt (he is also shirtless. Why are they half naked half the time).
If they squander another high pick on another Penny type it probably won’t work out. Just like before, it’ll be bad process, bad risk, and maybe bad luck, all tied up in an incredible football player who’s still hella fun to watch. So let’s see if the Seahawks have any restraint whatsoever when Bijan Robinson is still on the board at 1.20 and the clock begins to tick.