With only one pick in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, could the Philadelphia Eagles score a four-down player in SDSU RB Rashaad Penny at 32?
While running backs like Saquon Barkley, Bryce Love and Derrius Guice received most of the national college football headlines in 2017, no one ran for more yards than Rashaad Penny.
Even though Penny amassed over 3000 yards from scrimmage as a senior in high school, the three-star recruit from Norwalk, California, didn’t receive a single scholarship offer from a Power Five conference. With offers from Colorado State, Boise State, and Fresno State on the table, Penny ultimately bet on himself and decided to stay close to home and join Rocky Long‘s San Diego State Aztecs.
But unlike many of his peers, Penny did not contribute much right away at Marshall Faulk‘s alma mater.
In Penny’s first two seasons with the team, he only recorded 63 carries for 390 yards, while trapped behind the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey. But instead of pouting and looking for a transfer, Penny kept his head down and continued to work on his craft, both as a runner and as a returner and quickly rewarded the Aztec’s for their patients.
As a junior, Penny finally received triple-digit carries, and quickly established himself as one of college football’s ascending talents, recording 1005 yard and 11 touchdowns on only 135 carries as Pumphrey’s foil, and he wasn’t just effective as a runner. In addition to making plays as a runner, Penny also put points on the board as a receiver, and as a kick returner, scoring five more touchdowns as a four-down back.
And with Pumphrey gone in 2017, Penny made a statement as the team’s lead back.
Finally the focal point of Long’s power run game, Penny torched the Mountain West Conference for 2248 rushing yards as a senior on only 289 carries and did so game in and game out. In 13 starts for the Aztecs as a senior, Penny passed the century mark in 11, including an incredible five straight games with over 200 rushing yards to end his career in San Diego. Though he didn’t eclipse Pumphrey’s 6000-yard career yards, Penny recorded 2974 yards from scrimmage as a senior and scored an astounding 168 points in 2017, the second most of any player in college football.
With his NCAA eligibility up, Penny looks like the second straight San Diego State running back to make a jump from SoCal to the NFL and could be the highest Aztec running back selected in the NFL Draft since Faulk went second overall in 1994.
Why he’s a fit with the Philadelphia Eagles
Since returning to power in 2016, Howie Roseman has valued production over potential when drafting future Philadelphia Eagles, and out of every player in the 2018 NFL Draft, no one has more production than Rashaad Penny.
After splitting carries with current Eagle Donnel Pumphrey in 2016, Penny truly came into his own as the Aztec’s lead back in 2017, rushing for an FBS leading 2248 yards on 289 carries and 23 touchdowns as arguably the best player in the entire Mountain West Conference. And he made plays all over the field.
While San Diego State’s program is famous for their pro-style, ground-and-pound assault, Penny was not only effective as a rusher, but also made plays as a receiver and a kick returner, finishing his college career with 42 receptions for almost 500 yards and 6 touchdowns, while also returning 81 kicks for 2449 yards and seven additional touchdowns.
And after running a blazing fast 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, Penny’s name is flying up draft boards.
Now I know what you are thinking, this is great, but why would the Eagles be interested in Penny if they already have Jay Ajayi?
Well, with Ajayi entering the final year of his rookie deal, and the team’s current aging duo of LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles set to become free agents, the Eagles could quickly find themselves in need of a dynamic young runner, and Penny fits that mold perfectly.
Unlike the diminutive Pumphrey, who also stared in the Aztec’s power running scheme, Penny has prototypical NFL size. At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, Penny has the size, speed, and durability needed to become a four-down running back for the Eagles after a season of development. With solid hands, good instincts, and the perfect blend of speed and power, Penny is an inside-out runner who can attack opposing defenses from a variety of different spots around the field, whether that be pounding the rock between the tackles, running outside, or even as a weapon in the screen game.
And that’s just on the offensive side of the ball.
The Eagles prioritizing special teams more than almost any other team in the league, and adding Penny to Dave Fipp‘s unit could give the team the best kick returner they’ve had in years. While this may not seem like a big deal, adding a legitimate home run hitter like Penny who can give the team better field position throughout the game, make Carson Wentz‘s job a little easier and add some serious excitement to Fipp’s kickoff unit.
Though Ajayi played very well for the Bird in 2017, he’s struggled with knee issues for the majority of his career, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter describing them as “bone on bone“. While this obviously didn’t hurt his production over the last two seasons, as the former Boise State Bronco rushed for 2145, it may be wise to have a second starting caliber running back ready to go even if they extend Ajayi just in case he can’t go.
With his size, speed, and ability, Penny is a perfect fit for Doug Pederson‘s offense and could be the most dynamic offensive weapon the team has had in their backfield since LeSean McCoy in 2013. Though Penny doesn’t run with the same looseness Shady’s known for, his ability to smash through a defensive line like a bull in a china shop is reminiscent of a young DeMarco Murray before the Cowboys ran him into the ground.
While some may question his ability to compete against the best of the best after playing in lowly the Mountain West Conference, Penny shined at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, being named the South’s Co-MVP with 136 yards from scrimmage in the game, including a beautiful 73-yard touchdown reception. Though he’s currently a second-day prospect (for now), if the Eagles think Penny could be a four-down player moving forward, they could do a lot worse then selecting him 32nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, and having the dynamic young runner under contract for the next half-decade.
Best case NFL Comparison: DeMarco Murray
Draft Projection: Round 2-3