Rashaad Penny– Running Back
School: San Diego State
Weight: 220 pounds
Rashaad Penny NFL Draft Profile
NCAA stat leaders typically come out of non-power five conferences. The competition isn’t up to par with that of the PAC-12 or the SEC and therefore lends itself to inflated numbers. Rashaad Penny played in the Mountain West Conference, at a school known for gaudy stats at the running back position.
Playing schools like the Air Force Academy and San Jose State are a good way for an NFL prospect to pad numbers and garner attention that would otherwise be non-existent.
Athletes like Case Keenum (Houston) and Timmy Chang (Hawaii) benefited from their offensive systems and weak schedules. Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State) and Keenan Reynolds (Navy) owe a lot of their success to the same variables.
Penny led the nation in rushing yards in 2017. And while his critics attribute his success to his situation, his supporters argue the contrary. Penny is not listed on many experts “Top 5” lists at the running back position, but there is no doubt that he has the tools to excel at the next level.
When broken down to its simplest form, the running back position is nothing more than a man running to a spot that is supposed to be empty when he gets there. The good ones see an opening and power towards it with all their might, hoping to gain a handful of yards. Setting up an offense with a manageable down and distance is a back’s sole purpose in life. They wear a defense down so the offense can overpower late in the fourth quarter.
The great running backs see the field differently. Manipulating the other players in front of them in an effort to make these holes and openings more plentiful. Setting up blocks to create space is what separates the great ones. It is a skill that can’t be taught. It requires an understanding of the game and the ability to see a move before it happens.
Penny excels at creating. Using his lineman and receivers like pawns in a game of chess, Penny is almost mathematical in his approach to running the ball. Film study of Penny shows a runner who has amazing vision and reflexes to make things happen.
At 220 pounds, Penny is devastating late in games. His powerful lower half affords him the luxury of making smaller defenders seem inadequate when the Aztecs play with the lead. Keeping the ball on the ground with a shifty, punishing runner is what NFL teams want in a back his size.
Handling a big workload is nothing new for Penny. Carrying the ball 289 times his senior year for an NCAA-leading 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns shows that he is both reliable and durable. The Aztec offense featured Penny with success, and his 7.8 yards per carry is proof of this.
In his last five games at San Diego State, Penny finished with no less than 203 yards each time, finding the end zone at least twice in every contest. He thrives when the ball is in his hands and can certainly play, even against the best competition in the nation.
Top End Speed
Penny is a formidable runner between the tackles and can lower his shoulder when the need arises. What he isn’t, however, is a running back that will outrun defensive backs when he gets to the second level of a defense. Being run down by smaller, faster defensive backs plagued him in college and could pose a problem on Sundays.
Watching highlight film of the 2017 season leads many to believe that he has breakaway speed and that he’ll have no issues at against NFL defenders. Yet when watching full games of the Aztecs, it becomes clear that Penny lacks that second gear scouts covet so much.
Contrary to popular belief, speed can be taught. Coaches in the NFL will be wise to put Penny on some sort of speed regimen and fix his diet to shed a few pounds. The tradeoff will be tenfold and will fix an obvious weakness in Penny’s game.
Non-Factor Without a Lead
Today’s pass-happy NFL puts a premium on pass catchers. Tight ends have morphed into wide receiver hybrids, leaving their offensive line roots in favor of a more productive offensive weapon. The same can be said for the running back position.
Running backs like Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey are examples of what the modern NFL is looking for. A deadly weapon in the backfield with the ability to line up in the slot in passing situations.
Penny is a next level type talent running the ball but leaves much to be desired with his route running. His deficiencies in the passing game only get worse when he is in pass protection. His blocking is slightly above average, and that won’t cut it in the NFL.
To be a true three-down back in the league, Penny will need to improve on both his route tree and his blitz pickup. Without these two skills, he is doomed to be nothing more than an option on first and second down—a limitation no running back wants to be attached to.
Penny is the 2017 NCAA rushing champion. He is a devastating back with a natural ability to navigate the line of scrimmage. He sets up his blocks better than most and knows how to finish near the goal line. Penny will need some work in the passing game, and his top-end speed is nothing special. His faults are few, however, and he could prove to be one of the best pure running backs in the 2018 NFL Draft.
NFL Player Comparison
Teams with Need At Running Back
Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Round two, pick 38 overall- Tampa Bay