FAB 4. Penny Underwhelms At Senior Bowl To Bucs’ Benefit
San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny was supposed to take advantage of a weakened running back class at the Senior Bowl where Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Georgia’s terrific tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel opted not to attend. That afforded Penny, who led the nation with 2,248 rushing yards on 289 carries (7.8 avg.) in addition to 23 touchdowns, the opportunity to be this year’s Kareem Hunt and use the Senior Bowl to raise his draft profile.
Instead, Penny underwhelmed. He had a pair of fumbles the first two days and didn’t really settle in until Thursday when Penny told me he put together his best day of practice. Unless he shines in the Senior Bowl game on Saturday, Penny likely didn’t help his draft stock too much. But because he’s rushed for 3,656 yards and 38 touchdowns on 488 carries (7.5 avg.) in his Aztecs career, in addition to 42 catches for 479 yards (11.4 avg.) and six touchdowns with so much great tape for NFL scouts to evaluate, Penny didn’t lose any ground at the Senior Bowl, either.
At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, Penny has plenty of size to be a feature back in the NFL, and he has very good breakaway speed too, evidenced by 12 runs of 50 yards or more in his career.
“Using my speed and using my size as a running back and using power, I know a lot of teams in the NFL – all of the teams that were in the playoffs all have a running game,” Penny said. “Just providing that for a team would be great.”
But not just any team. Penny wants to be drafted by the Buccaneers, who interviewed him at the Senior Bowl.
“It went amazing, meeting with the Buccaneers, and I think I sold myself pretty good,” Penny said. “I’m excited about whatever happens. I love the Buccaneers. That would be surreal – that would be so big. I know the weather can get a little crazy out there some times. It’s not San Diego. I said that about Alabama today. It’s too cold out here. I’m not used to it. It would definitely be worth it.
“I’m a big fan of the Buccaneers and the NFC South. That’s a great division and a tough division to compete in with a lot of great running backs. Just having another good running bad added to their system would bring them back to where they were a few years ago. I’m a big NFC South fan and I watch a lot of Carolina, the Saints, the Falcons and the Buccaneers. They have a lot of great defensive players. The NFC South is one of the best divisions in the league.”
Rushing in the shadow of Donnell Pumphrey, who became the FBS all-time leading rusher during Penny’s junior season, Penny still produced a 1,000-yard season in 2016 before his record-breaking senior campaign that saw him post six 200-yard games, including five straight in his final five games as an Aztec. Penny’s production didn’t just come at the expense of Mountain West Conference teams, either. He rushed for 216 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown, in a win at Arizona State and then rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown in an upset against Stanford the following week.
“What did he weigh today – 220?” said Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips at the Senior Bowl. “He felt a lot bigger than that. That’s a credit to him and how hard he runs. I know he’s a really good guy just from knowing him here and playing against him. You’re going to get a person who is going to work hard and probably be a captain in a few years for your organization. He definitely felt bigger and stronger than 220 pounds – he’s probably just one muscle.”
“I was so excited about it because a lot of people doubted us,” Penny said of the Aztecs’ win at Arizona State. “We went into a hostile environment like Arizona State and it was a big game for us. We played hard, and for me to display my talents in a Power 5 game, it was definitely worth it.
“[Against Stanford] we definitely put our foot down as a team not to be messed with at that time. Bryce Love is a great running back in his own right. I’m not taking anything away from him. He deserved the Doak Walker, but the win was the most important and most significant thing about it. To beat Stanford at home and showing that we could compete against anybody – we showed that we could play in the Power 5, too.”
Penny, who has returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns in addition to a touchdown on a punt return, takes pride in his hard-nosed running style and models himself after one of the NFL’s most dynamic running backs.
“I love how Ezekiel Elliott runs,” Penny said. “I always say he runs north and south. He’s not an east-west guy. He’s a one-cut dude, and that’s what you have to have in the NFL to be successful. You always have to have that one cut and just be north and south. It’s not east and west and dancing. It’s always about going forward. If you only gain two or third yards – that’s a positive.”
That must sound like music to the Buccaneers’ ears as the team expects to release Doug Martin this offseason after too much dancing around and not enough north-south running over the past two years when he’s failed to rush for even 500 yards in a season.
The Bucs fell in love with Toledo running back Kareem Hunt at the Senior Bowl last year, and missed out on drafting who would become the NFL’s leading rusher in his rookie season. With Penny not elevating his draft stock to the second round like I expected him to with a better performance in Mobile, Ala., I suspect he may still be viewed as a third-round prospect mainly due to his average showing in the passing game as a receiver and more importantly as a pass protector.
And with Tampa Bay needing to address its offensive and defensive lines in the early rounds that may greatly benefit the Buccaneers if they covet Penny in the third round.