For most of the past four years, Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have been heavily scrutinized for choosing running back Rashaad Penny in the first round back in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, after a lackluster and injury riddled start to his career, Penny truly found his groove once he became the starter last month and ended the final year of his rookie contract with a bang on Sunday.
Against the Cardinals number nine ranked rush defense in the season finale, Penny piled up a career-high 190 yards on just 23 attempts for an average of 8.3 yards per carry. In the process, he also became the first player in franchise history to rush for more than 170 yards in back-to-back games. His efforts, including a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, helped propel the Seahawks to a 38-30 win at State Farm Stadium to close out a challenging season with an upset victory.
"You can’t tackle him," Carroll gushed. "I think he tied for the most 25 plus yard gains in the season this year with [Colts running back] Jonathan Taylor, who’s up for MVP and all that kind of stuff. I think he has got eight of them. If he had a little bit of a longer field a couple of times, he would have had that. He did it in a third of as many attempts [as Taylor]. That’s crazy stuff and it just validates how effective he’s been."
Coming off this latest career day, Penny rushed for 100 yards or more in four of the final five games of the season, proving to be a reliable and explosive back for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense. According to Pro Football Reference, he became just the ninth back in NFL history to rush for over 135 yards, score at least one touchdown, and average north of 6.5 yards per carry in four games in the same season. He also joined Shaun Alexander as the only backs in franchise history with three straight 130-plus yard rushing performances.
While Penny will be the first to say his recovery from injuries has propelled his performance, his offensive contributions are also a result of improved offensive line play, in particular center Ethan Pocic, young guards Damien Lewis and Phil Haynes, and right tackle Jake Curhan. The entire group dominated down the stretch, allowing the Seahawks to play the style of offensive football Carroll has been seeking for the better part of two years.
The end result? While Seattle still finished with a disappointing 7-10 record overall, the team won four of its final six games, finally finding the winning formula that evaded them for much of the season thanks to Penny and the offensive line.
“Just run the football. Run the football," Carroll said of the team's late season success. "We started to convert on third downs, and we were able to take advantage of the good, solid play that we were getting out of our defense. Our kicking game was extraordinary all year long. We just put the elements together and you can see how it works. You don’t have to throw for 400 yards to win football games. You’ve got to be able to mix it and control the ball and be dominant at the line of scrimmage. Our guys were able to find that... That’s just a winning formula.”
Set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Penny has squarely inserted his name back into the Seahawks’ future backfield plans after a dominant month of play. Entering the season as the clear cut starter, Chris Carson only played in three games before being shut down for the season with a nagging neck injury that required surgery. The team's other lead back Alex Collins is set to join Penny in free agency after a rather lackluster season of inconsistent production.
Considering Carson may or may not be able to make it back from neck surgery and Collins might not be re-signed, Penny could be well-positioned to start for Seattle next season if re-signed. But the back should have plenty of options, as rushing for more than 700 yards in the past six games should make him one of the most coveted backs set to be available in March.
When asked about Penny’s future with Seattle earlier this month, Carroll said, “He looks really good. He looks really good playing ball, and we need him on our team."
What the Seahawks will have to figure out is how much they will be willing to pay Penny, who likely won't have a shortage of suitors after showcasing his home run-hitting ability over the past five games. But his durability issues will also have to be kept in consideration after he missed more than 20 regular season games in four seasons battling numerous injuries, including a torn ACL.
Regardless, after making quite the statement over the past six weeks, Penny has drastically boosted his value for any team in the market for a running back. Set to turn only 26 years old next month, Penny’s future remains bright regardless of the team he suits up for in 2022.