Before the wheels fell completely off in 2017, the Seattle Seahawks looked like they may have a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year; however in the end neither potential candidate really got close to the award podium. Although cornerback Shaquill Griffin elevated to a starting role by week four; he never put the numbers together to contend for the honor. For running back Chris Carson, it was even worse. Despite putting together a solid first four games of the season, a serious high-ankle sprain, that required surgery, shelved him for the entire season, even as it looked like he was finally catching his stride.
Now somewhat unexpectedly, the Seahawks will have a chance at offensive rookie of the year in 2018 after drafting running back Rashaad Penny in the first round with the 27th overall pick and one ESPN writer believes Penny will take home the award. In ESPN's round table discussion on rookie awards and impacts, it was ESPN writer and fantasy football guru Mike Clay that emerged as the lone voice among five to pick Penny for 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Here was his logic behind the pick:
The Seahawks have been extremely pass-heavy the past two seasons, but the offseason change to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and subsequent personnel moves suggest a move back to the run. Those moves included taking San Diego State's Penny in the first round of the draft. He led the nation in rushing yards last year (2,248) and has good size, terrific elusiveness and post-contact ability as well as good receiving chops. He's a candidate to push for well more than 250 touches as a rookie.
Clay definitely is on the right track. Before he got hurt in week four, Carson was on pace for 196 carries and he didn't come in with the hype or expectations that Penny has heaped on his shoulders as the Seahawks number one pick. Add to that, the former San Diego State product proved to be a workhorse back in his lone season as the starter in college. One of the reasons the Seahawks liked Penny was because he didn't have the normal amount of miles on him for an elite college back but had shown the ability to hold up through volume carries. He sat behind Donnell Pumphrey until his senior season where Penny exploded for 289 carries leading to 2,248 yards and a 7.8 yards per carry average. He was seventh in the nation in yards per carry but had the most carries of anyone on the list by a wide margin.
He also projects to be the team's third-down back and potentially a return man. His special teams production has the potential to set up his offense and score points; so don't think it won't sway voters towards his side if takes the job and excels. As for his every-down back role, head coach Pete Carroll believes he has ability to be on the field in all situations if he improves his blocking but he's got the pass-catching on lock.
“He caught the ball beautifully, really," Carroll said of Penny's rookie mini-camp performance. "He can do whatever we need to do in the throwing game. [Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] did a nice job of mixing some stuff in so we could see him doing different route concepts; so we had a real good variety of things that we looked at, in and out of the backfield. With a couple of exceptions, he did a really good job. So that’s a real good sign. We’re gonna work real hard with his pass protection and make sure that he’s up to speed there. We’d like to see if we can make him available to us on all three downs. Kind of like we use [running back] Chris [Carson].”
Penny has all the tools to be a dynamic contributor in the NFL. He has elite speed and elusiveness mixed with a hard-running style and pass-catching ability. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best runner between the tackles and forced the most missed tackles among draft eligible running backs. Like an Alvin Kamara, who won rookie of the year for the Saints as a running back in 2017, he does a multitude of things well. And even though, he may share the load with Chris Carson somewhat; we saw Kamara team up with Mark Ingram and not be hurt by the shared role last season.
While Carson had an outside shot last season; his production was on the lower end of the contenders spectrum, expect Penny to make a move right out of the gate. The only thing that may stop him is his offensive line, who were bottom two in giving up stuff yards (rushing yards lost behind the line of scrimmage) and creating yards for their running backs in 2017, per Football Outsiders. The Seahawks are hoping an adjustment to their run game philosophy with Schottenheimer, a mix of more change of pace plays like screens, run-blocking dynamo D.J. Fluker's addition, Ethan Pocic's added weight and new offensive line coach Mike Solari's new power run/zone blocking scheme will all contribute to opening up better run lanes.
If they do, Penny may have some hardware when it's all said done.