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Seahawks Counting On Strong Finish From Rashaad Penny

Finally healthy after battling numerous injuries in the past three seasons, Penny has a chance to end a disappointing season both for himself and his team in positive fashion while rebuilding his value as he approaches free agency.

RENTON, WA - For the majority of his four seasons with the Seahawks, whether fair or not, running back Rashaad Penny has been a proverbial punching bag for fans and analysts due to his inability to stay healthy and disappointing on-field production. Such criticisms come with the territory as a former first-round pick who has failed to come close to meeting expectations.

Thanks mostly to misfortune on the injury front, Penny entered Sunday's Week 13 contest against San Francisco with 43 rushing yards and no touchdowns on 17 carries in four games. For his career, he had yet to reach 900 rushing yards, putting him in not-so-welcome company alongside former Cincinnati draft bust Chris Perry as one of only two former first-round backs dating back to 1995 to rush for under 900 combined yards in his first four NFL seasons.

But with his back against the wall and the Seahawks desperate for a spark on offense anywhere they could find it, Penny picked an ideal time to show he can still be a viable playmaker out of the backfield. Logging a season-high 29 offensive snaps with starter Alex Collins sidelined, he contributed 62 all-purpose yards as a runner and receiver, helping his team secure a badly-needed 30-23 victory over the 49ers.

Capturing the attention of coach Pete Carroll and his teammates, Penny easily turned in his best game of the 2021 campaign. While he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry as a runner, he broke two runs of 10-plus yards and after slipping through multiple tackles, he put his wheels on display weaving his way across the field on an exhilarating 27-yard screen reception in the fourth quarter, drawing loud cheers from a sellout crowd at Lumen Field.

"I think this is a start for him," Carroll said on Monday. "I don’t really think that he has had a chance yet to start the season. This was the best opportunity that he’s had and I’m hoping that we can jump from here. He does look explosive, you can feel the big play ability in him, and when he gets on the edge, like he did on that screen, I thought he was gone."

While Penny's well-executed screen fired up Seattle's sideline, however, his best play on Sunday came without the ball in his hands. Midway through the third quarter, he alertly identified safety Talanoa Hufanga coming untouched blitzing off the edge and broke off from his play fake, hitting the deck and cutting the defender's legs out from underneath him. The critical block allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to move his pocket to the left and complete a 17-yard pass to receiver Dee Eskridge on a crossing route for a first down.

Previously not known for his pass protection skills dating back to his time starring at San Diego State collegiately, Carroll said Penny's efforts didn't go unnoticed during the Seahawks weekly Monday film session.

"That was a big play," Carroll gushed. "Guys really recognized that when we watched the film today as a team, we showed that play."

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Selected by Seattle at No. 27 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Penny has battled durability issues throughout his tenure with the team. In his first three seasons, he missed a combined 21 regular season games, including the first 13 games of the 2020 season rehabbing from a torn ACL on the PUP list. This season, he missed six of the first seven games on injured reserve with a calf injury and also sat out a Week 12 loss in Washington with a hamstring strain.

When healthy, there's never been a question about Penny's talent level, as he has flashed his first-round ability in brief spurts. Before injuring his knee late in the 2019 season, he appeared to be on the verge of a breakout after rushing for 129 yards in a win over the Eagles and producing over 100 all-purpose yards and two scores in a win over the Vikings in back-to-back weeks.

Even amidst another season plagued by bad injury luck, Penny has tantalized with his physical tools this year, turning in several explosive runs in training camp and nearly busting the game's opening run against Arizona two weeks ago for a touchdown. Compared to the other backs on Seattle's roster such as Collins and DeeJay Dallas, he offers the ability to shift into a different gear when he accelerates to the second level and has home run hitting breakaway speed.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks haven't gotten many chances to see those skills in action. Due to constant injuries that have cost him nearly 30 games in four seasons, including straining his hamstring on the aforementioned run against the Cardinals, they haven't been able to count on Penny to be a consistent contributor as envisioned, he's been unable to establish any semblance of a rhythm, and his development has been stunted as a result.

After making it through Sunday's win without any new injuries and reminding everyone what he's capable of when healthy, Carroll has his fingers crossed that the talented runner can finally get the ball rolling this time and bring juice to the team's offense that has largely been missing in the backfield since starter Chris Carson suffered a season-ending neck injury in early October.

"He is important to us," Carroll remarked. "We need him particularly without Chris [Carson’s] factor in here. They are totally different style runners, but yet they both factor into the explosiveness of our game. It’s great to have him going, and I’m really hoping that he can have a solid week, come back, build one on another, and see if we can get rolling here as we finish up the year.”

With five weeks remaining on his rookie contract, few players on Seattle's roster have more to play for than the soon-to-be 26-year old Penny entering the final home stretch. Due to his lengthy injury history and poor statistical output as a result, his value has bottomed out heading towards free agency at a position already devalued by the rest of the league.

But with Carson's status up in the air moving forward given the nature of his injury and Collins set to be a free agent, the Seahawks have short and long-term questions at running back. If Penny can stay healthy and play at a high level for the remainder of the season to aid a last-gasp playoff push, it's not out of the question he could play his way back into the franchise's future backfield plans.