SEATTLE – The Seahawks did the right thing in picking a running back in the first round. Was it the right running back?
Rashaad Penny, a record-breaking runner at San Diego State, was the surprise choice for Seattle. Few, if any, draft projections and draft experts had Penny going in the first round. Now he wants to prove them wrong.
“I looked at all the mocks and projections, but as the process went on I realized mocks and predictions don’t mean anything,’’ Penny said. “I can do whatever it takes to help them win a game, that’s for sure. That’s the mindset I’m bringing to Seattle.”
As expected, the Seahawks traded down, from 18 to 27 in Round 1. The two running backs most experts saw as the best in the draft next to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley – Sony Michel of Georgia and Derrius Guice of LSU – were still on the board.
Penny (5-11, 220) was projected to go in the second of even the third round. Guice and Michel were projected as late first round or early second-round picks. Michel was drafted four spots after Penny by the New England Patriots. So why Penny instead of the other two?
“I don’t mind telling you, this pick fires me up,’’ said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “He’s such an exciting player and so versatile and dynamic. We know that every time he gets his hands on the ball he can score a touchdown.”
Penny’s stats are impressive. He rushed for 2,248 yards as a senior, an eye-popping 7.8-yard average per carry. Penny had 23 TDs rushing and two receiving. He also can return kicks and punts and had seven kickoff TDs.
Stats alone aren’t the reason Carroll and Seattle general manager John Schneider felt Penny stood out.
Carroll and Schneider made it clear earlier in the week the kind of players they are looking for in this draft. No red flags. After a season of constant distraction last year, the front office wanted high-character young men who they believe will buy in to the program.
Penny is that kind of kid.
“He fits the bill for us,” Carroll said. “To get a guy who knows who he is and has his world squared away gets us that much closer to the core of who we are and what we want to be.”
Penny’s joy at becoming a first-round pick was clear in a video that went viral on social media. He was home in Los Angeles when he got the call from the Seahawks in front of about 50 family members and friends. Penny cried as the people around him screamed in happiness.
“I was just excited to be part of this process,’’ Penny said. “I’m a hard worker and I want to come in and compete.”
Penny, 22, started only one season at San Diego State because he played behind Donnel Pumphrey, but Penny still rushed for 1,018 yards as a junior with a 7.5-yard average.
“I’m a very patient runner and very elusive,’’ Penny said. “And I can catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Penny also admits his weaknesses.
“Definitely I have to work on my pass protection,’’ he said. “I’m working on it every day. I’m going to get better and I know I have to protect that million-dollar man back there in Russell Wilson. I’m excited to join him. It’s gonna be fun.”
Penny didn’t play against the rugged competition of the SEC like Michel and Guice, but he probably convinced the Seahawks he could get it done against better competition at the Senior Bowl. Penny had a 73-yard TD reception and rushed for 64 yards on nine carries.
Penny also has an older brother, Elijhaa, who is a back-up running back for the Arizona Cardinals. Rashaad said his big brother helped him prepare for the draft.
The Seahawks and everyone else knows Penny is talented. Advanced analytics show other things, as well.
“He has some really interesting analytic stats on durability and yards after contact,’’ Schneider said. “Out of this [draft] group, he was No. 1 in both those categories.”
In the end, it wasn’t any single stat that made the Seahawks pick Penny over the other backs.
“He is a really easy-going, humble, really good person,’’ Schneider said. “Once he gets on the field he has a swagger about him. His demeanor is this quiet kid, but he has that sparkle in his eyes.’’
The Seahawks had only one rushing TD from a running back last season. The truth is they haven’t been the same team without Marshawn Lynch, who led them to back-to-back Super Bowls.
“He’s a great running back and I’m excited to try to follow his footsteps,’’ Penny said. “He was amazing and I want to carry on that tradition. I think that’s why they picked me.”
He thinks right and it was the right move by the Seahawks. But is Penny the right man for the job?
“I want to bring that team back to where it was a few years ago,’’ Penny said. “I want to thank everyone in their organization for trusting me. I know they need someone to come in and help, and I’m the right guy for that. I’m a fighter. I just can’t wait.”