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.
— Troy Hirsch (@troyhirschfox5) April 27, 2018
“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.