At Mountain West Connection, we are expanding our coverage of all things Mountain West Football. With that in mind, we are adding a weekly segment where we will highlight a specific MW alumnus who is currently playing in the NFL. Players will range from highly-touted draft picks all the way down to late-round or undrafted players trying to crack a 53-man roster. The articles will consist of a player’s progression, regression, or performance in the previous week’s NFL game. Without further adieu, our first spotlight player…
Rashaad Penny, RB Seattle Seahawks (San Diego State University)
Rashaad Penny traded in his red and black for blue and neon green in the form of his 1st round, 27th overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Penny is arguably one of the best offensive talents the Mountain West has seen in years, despite the fact that he spent three years in a backup and special teams role. His 2017 campaign followed in the footsteps of the the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher Donnell Pumphrey, who ran for over 2,000 yards with Penny as his backup in 2016. During Pumphrey’s record-breaking 2016 season, Penny still rushed for over 1,000 yards and posted a gaudy 7.4 average yards per carry. Over his four years at SDSU, Penny returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns and added one punt return for a touchdown in his senior year. His dynamic running style mixed with an NFL-sized frame allowed him to carve up defenses across the country by running through them or around them. Penny was thought to be a potential Heisman Trophy finalist, before the stigma of playing in a Group of 5 conference ultimately caused him to be forced to watch the trophy presentation from home. With a good combine workout and a laundry list of college accomplishments, the Seattle Seahawks felt he more than deserved the first-round selection, and head coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider sang his praises throughout Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
The Seahawks are in the midst of what could be considered a “semi-rebuild.” They have lost a sizeable chunk from their championship roster of a few years ago but still contain enough talent on both sides of the ball to have an interesting season. Most experts and pundits have them picked to finish around 8-8, but that prediction could vary drastically based on the production that the running game provides. Despite being a first-round draft pick, Rashaad Penny is no guarantee to be the legitimate starter, and it’s likely he begins the year in a backup role. Former Oklahoma State Cowboy Chris Carson showed promise last year before an ankle injury prematurely cut his season short in week 4 of the season, and he has won over the Seattle coaching staff so far in training camp and preseason. Penny sustained a fairly significant injury of his own by breaking a finger in the beginning of preseason, keeping him off the field and unable to properly make his case for the starting role in the Seattle backfield. On the bright side, Penny is on track to be back for the regular season opener, and should receive his fair share of carries as the backup halfback when the Seahawks take on the Broncos on September 9th. Additionally, Penny is slated to be the number 2 kick returner behind receiver Tyler Lockett.
Rashaad Penny meets the eye test in terms of what you want to see in first-round NFL draft pick running backs. He has the body of an every down back, the speed of home run hitting special teams player, and the soft hands and awareness to be a receiving and blocking back on third downs. Penny also has an amazing head on his shoulders, and an uncanny amount of humility for a player who has accomplished so much at such a young age. Of all his highlight reel plays, one of his most circulated and discussed videos was the comments he made after the Aztecs road win at UNLV. In the first home game for UNLV following the tragic Las Vegas shooting, Penny was asked on-field by a reporter about his exceptional performance in the Aztecs double-digit victory. Without hesitation, Penny spent half the interview sending his condolences to the university and city of Las Vegas as a whole, and then went on to talk about his teammates excellent all-around performance. Penny’s kind and humble nature will make him an instant fan favorite, and he will endear himself to football fans across the country with his ability and attitude. Bottom line, the Seahawks drafted Penny with the idea that he will become the bell-cow back for years to come. He will face stiff competition with Carson for carries and touches, but ultimately if Penny can have anywhere near the success he had in his last two years of college, he will likely find himself as the spearhead of a resurgent Seahawks team looking to return to their normal playoff form.