Can Rashaad Penny Take the NFL by Storm and Save the Seahawks?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 8, 2018

Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny takes part in a drill Friday, May 4, 2018, during NFL rookie football camp in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The Seattle Seahawks are coming off their worst season of the Russell Wilson era, and their trajectory appears to be pointing further downward on the surface.  

Seattle won fewer than 10 games and missed the playoffs last year for the first time since drafting Wilson in the third round in 2012, while the division-rival Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers emerged as high-buzz current or soon-to-be contenders. The Seahawks then experienced a hellish March, with key veterans such as Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson and Paul Richardson all hitting the road. 

The Seahawks are trying to keep it together after an offseason that featured many tough breaks.
The Seahawks are trying to keep it together after an offseason that featured many tough breaks.Tony Avelar/Associated Press

To boot, trade rumors have surrounded Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who hasn't been attending the team's offseason program, according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

It might be time to prepare a eulogy for the Legion of Boom and to wonder whether a supposed dynasty in the making has already reached its expiration date. 

Wilson was an MVP candidate last year, but the four-time Pro Bowler can't single-handedly carry a team that ranked in the middle of the pack in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), according to Football Outsiders

According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson has been pressured more frequently than any quarterback in the NFC over the last three years. That oft-embarrassed offensive line again ranked in the bottom 10 in terms of Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate in 2017. 

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

So, the defense likely won't rescue Wilson the way it did during the first few years of his career, and the line again might do more harm than good in 2018. 

What about the running game? Could Seattle's savior be a rookie at a non-premium position who few expected to be drafted in the first round?

Most casual football fans still may not know who Rashaad Penny is, but the overlooked 22-year-old running back could be the key to saving the Seahawks in 2018. 

Seattle's running game consistently ranked near the top of the league in terms of rushing yards per game and yards per carry during Wilson's first four seasons, but the Seahawks ranked in the bottom 10 in each of the last two seasons. They've been looking for a top-flight back ever since Marshawn Lynch faded in 2015, but they haven't had a running back rush for 500 yards in either of the last two seasons. 

Penny might change that. And the Seahawks know it, which is why they're going to try to keep him on the field every down. 

"We're gonna work real hard with his pass protection and make sure that he's up to speed there," head coach Pete Carroll said Sunday, per Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune. "We'd like to see if we can make him available to us on all three downs."

Few mock drafts had Penny going in Round 1, but Seahawks general manager John Schneider—who selected him 27th overall in April's draft—said he would have felt comfortable taking Penny at No. 18 before Seattle traded down, according to PFF's Scott Barrett

And it's not as though the Seahawks are the only team that believes Penny has a bright future. After Seattle took the San Diego State product, Schneider says the team received a trade offer for him, per Barrett. 

Yours truly wrote in March that it was "shocking to see how often he's been ignored in early-round draft analysis and predictions," because Penny looks and feels like an elite running back in the making. 

He's patient and has tremendous vision, which helped him have a wildly productive senior season in the Mountain West Conference (2,383 scrimmage yards, 25 touchdowns). Penny averaged 7.7 yards per carry during his two seasons as a regular or semi-regular starter with the Aztecs. He also put on a show at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at 220 pounds.

Penny isn't a perfect prospect—B/R's Matt Miller noted he "doesn't wow you with any one trait," and scouts suggested he could "struggle picking up an NFL playbook"—but he has the size, speed, strength and experience to play a huge role right away. That's why he could wind up making a Kareem Hunt- or Alvin Kamara-like impact as a rookie.

Hunt was a third-round pick coming out of Toledo, but the 22-year-old led the league in rushing as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs. Kamara was also a third-rounder coming out of Tennessee, but he earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with the New Orleans Saints

Could Rashaad Penny be this year's Kareem Hunt?
Could Rashaad Penny be this year's Kareem Hunt?Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

More eyes will be trained on No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley with the New York Giants, but don't be surprised if Penny teams up with a better quarterbackEli Manning doesn't pose the same threat that Wilson doesand outperforms Barkley in the same way Hunt and Kamara outplayed top-five selection Leonard Fournette in 2017. 

If that happens, the Seahawks offense will be dangerous enough with Wilson, Penny and Doug Baldwin to compensate for shortcomings along the offensive line and on defense. And even if Penny is consistent and effective but not a game-changer, Wilson and the passing game should benefit from a newfound ability to keep defenses honest. 

Wilson remains the centerpiece, but how Penny fares right off the bat could determine whether the Seahawks will bounce back from a down year to make another run at becoming a dynasty. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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