With the NFL Combine in our rear view, the NFL Draft is fast approaching. With a little over a month to go there’s not much time left before dynasty rookie drafts get rolling. Let’s take a look at one of the most accomplished running backs this past season. Rashaad Penny showed well during the combine posting an 88th percentile 40-yard dash (4.46) and also boasted a 92nd percentile speed score according to playerprofiler.com. If you have yet to see him in action there are plenty of Gifs below that illuminate his skillset.
Yes, he was regularly making big plays like this all season for the Aztecs this past season. There is more to him than just a small school, big-play running back though. I will show you the many reasons you should be keeping an eye on him in your drafts here.
Rashaad Penny was offered multiple scholarships coming out of high school as a three-star recruit. He passed on Boise State, Colorado State, and Fresno State before deciding on San Diego State. Penny was primarily used on special teams during his first two college seasons but he returned kicks throughout his career there. He was given more work at tailback his junior year though before becoming the team’s feature back this past season.
Rashaad Penny led the nation in 2017 with 2,248 yards rushing, and 2,974 all-purpose yards. Subsequently he was named an All-American and finished fifth in Heisman voting.
Penny is a two-time MWC special teams player of the year and made the All-Mountain West first team as running back in 2017.
During his career he returned seven kicks for a touchdown, tied for the NCAA record. He also holds the record for San Diego State’s single-season rushing, single-season all-purpose and single-game all-purpose yards.
Tale of the Tape
I love watching this play. It shows off some of the traits that make Penny great. His power and leg drive show well as he always keeps his legs churning. When he does go down he falls forward. He is effective at breaking tackles. In fact, he was so efficient that he led all players in the draft with 82 broken tackles. According to PFF, he averaged 3.32 yards per carry when contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, which also leads the draft class. It’s also just fun to watch him drag a defender 10 yards downfield by his shirt.
Rashaad Penny has more than just power in his repertoire. You can see here his ability to press the line of scrimmage, and how deadly he can be when the defense reacts. His patience is also on display here. He waits for his blocks and for the defense to commit to stopping the inside run. After they do he’s able to bounce outside without losing speed. Once he does that he is able to accelerate then hit a second gear to get to the edge and outrun his pursuit.
San Diego State didn’t ask Penny to run many routes as a receiver. They were usually just flares, but as you can see here he is not a liability catching the ball. The thing I like most about this play though comes at the end. He is in the open field with just one man to beat. I’m sure the defender here was thinking that Penny was going to try and plow right through him towards the end zone. Instead he takes one hard step left to get the defender to commit that direction and then cuts the opposite direction; making the defender look foolish.
The quickest way for any rookie to make an impact in the NFL is on special teams. Penny will definitely be able to do that at the very least. His vision and ability to read blocks are two of Penny’s greatest assets. I believe those traits were refined while returning kicks. He consistently shows these abilities in both returning and running the ball.
Rashaad Penny showed out throughout college when given the opportunity. And any player would love to have had the final season he had for San Diego State. His vision, patience, balance, power, and ability to make defenders miss is what will prop him up above many other running backs in this year’s draft. However, his pass blocking could keep him from being relied on early in his career. He will need to improve immensely in this area before he can be trusted in an every down role.
Penny’s return skills should help him stand out on draft day. I believe he will hear his name called on day two. He may not be a complete and perfect prospect, but he is one that can make an impact at the NFL level. To begin his career he will likely be a two-down back. If he ends up landing on a team with an opening you will have to grab in early in your drafts to have a shot. There are many backs in this draft who will be vying for snaps, but he is one that everyone should be watching for.