Rashaad Penny is the Rookie to Target - Footballguys

A detailed look at Rashaad Penny's fantasy prospects for 2018.

Rashaad Penny is the rookie running back to target this year. Aside from Saquon Barkley, Penny has the clearest path to a workhorse role and the most well-rounded game of the top backs. He projects as a three-down back with his size, speed, and versatility. The fantasy community is vastly underestimating Penny's receiving upside. While projections from the best fantasy football analysts have Penny notching approximately 30 receptions, he has the skill set and opportunity to double that number if things break as predicted here. Penny has legitimate RB1 upside, particularly in points-per-reception (PPR) formats, which makes him a strong value in drafts. 

Underrated Receiving Ability

Penny should exceed the relatively low expectations the fantasy community writ large has for him as a pass catcher. The Seahawks coaching staff has been consistently effusive in their praise for Penny's receiving ability. “He’s such an exciting player and he’s so versatile and dynamic that we know every time he gets his hands on the ball, he can score a touchdown. And that’s in the running game and the passing game, because he’s very gifted catching the football and running routes as well,” raved Pete Carroll in the post-draft press conference. 

Penny has drawn strong reviews for his ability to learn and execute a wide array of pass-game concepts in OTAs. Carroll praised Penny’s receiving ability when recapping his OTA performance: 

He’s a really good route runner and a good catcher. He really was impressive throughout. He’s picked up a ton of stuff. He caught the ball beautifully. He can do whatever we need to do in the throwing game. Schotty (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.

The most significant factor separating the first and second-round running backs was their route-running ability, and the same separation could emerge regarding fantasy production as well. The second-round backs were limited to primarily screens and dump offs in the flat. Each of the three first-round running backs showed the ability to line up outside and win one-on-one matchups. Sports Info Solutions noted Penny’s average depth of target (ADOT) was 4.5, a high number for a running back and an indication that he was running more than just check-down routes and screens. Even more importantly, Penny led the rookie class with an average of 11.7 yards per target when he lined up split out wide or in the slot

Player
Pos
Targets
Rec
Yards
TDs
Jimmy Graham
TE
96
57
520
10
Paul Richardson
WR
80
44
703
6
Luke Willson
TE
22
15
153
4
Thomas Rawls
RB
13
9
94
0
Eddie Lacy
RB
6
6
47
0
Totals
217
131
1517
20

Looking at the Seahawks roster, Penny has a massive opportunity as a pass catcher. Seattle lost a total of 207 targets, 131 receptions, 1,517 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns from last year. Some of those targets will go to returning players stepping into slightly larger roles. And veteran addition Brandon Marshall will pick up some of the slack if he makes the 53-man roster. Even so, there will be plenty of opportunities for Penny if the team commits to his playing on obvious passing downs. 

Player
Targets
Rec
Yards
Y/R
TDs
J.D. McKissic
46
34
266
7.8
2
Mike Davis
18
15
131
8.7
0
C.J. Prosise
11
6
87
14.5
0
Chris Carson
8
7
59
8.4
1
Totals
83
62
543
39
3

Not only are 207 targets up for grabs from the departed players, the returning running backs combined for 83 targets last season. Penny is likely to steal a good chunk of those targets, too. Coaches have talked about the importance of having a dual-threat back who is equally dangerous in the passing and running game and doing away with a third-down specialist. The one-dimensional J.D. McKissick is very much in danger of seeing his opportunities swallowed up if Penny is as good a pass catcher as Pete Carroll thinks he is. 

The Value of a Lower Profile

Penny did not generate nearly the same amount of pre-draft hype as Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb. While those backs starred in the SEC, Penny toiled away in relative obscurity in the Mountain West. The fact he was drafted ahead of those bigger school backs forced him more into the spotlight. However, pre-draft opinions are always slow to adjust to new information, and the market can be slow to react, creating an opportunity for savvy fantasy owners. Penny’s lack of pre-draft hype has continued to depress his ADP slightly and contributed to his being available at least half a round later than he should be. 

Penny is a major talent. He won both Offensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year in the Mountain West, rushed for a school-record 2,248 yards and scored 28 total touchdowns last season. While some will argue that Seattle reached for him with the 27th overall pick, there were many indications following the draft that Seattle was far from the only team in love with Penny’s talent. Penny was also a darling of the analytics community. He earned an Elusive Rating of 123.3 from ProFootballFocus, tops in the class.

Penny checked every box in the pre-draft process. First, he went to the Senior Bowl and dominated. He ran nine times for 63 yards and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass on his way to sharing the Most Outstanding Player award for the South team with D.J. Chark. Then he showed up at the combine and blazed a 4.46 forty-yard dash and caught the ball well. He also impressed teams in interviews.

 

Potential Concerns

Chris Carson has drawn positive reviews for his play so far in minicamp. Carson flashed as a rookie in 2017 and could force his way into a committee, especially early in the season. However, as much hype as he has generated, Seattle’s first-round investment in a running back despite a long list of other major needs speaks volumes about their confidence in Carson. 

Much has also been made of Penny’s struggles in pass protection at San Diego State. He gave up two sacks and six pressures his final season. Carroll doesn’t seem concerned. “He won’t have any problems with it at all,” Carroll said. “He’s got a great body for doing it. He’s a tough kid. So it’s just a matter of getting in the reps. Understand how physical they can be. The different types of styles of rushes they get. It really comes along rather quickly.” Early returns from OTAs are also positive. "He looks so comfortable with the pass protection," Carroll said. "That was something that was new for him, a demanding part of the game. We don’t have any hesitation he’s going to be fine in that area." 

Projections

Year
Projector
Games
Rush
Yards
TDs
Rec
Yards
TDs
FumLost
2018
14.5
162.0
664
5.1
31.0
260
1.9
2.1
2018
16.0
190.0
825
5.0
30.0
240
2.0
2.0
2018
16.0
200.0
810
6.0
30.0
240
1.0
1.0
2018
16.0
183.0
760
5.3
23.5
177
0.8
2.2

Final Thoughts

If Rashaad Penny can fend off Chris Carson and emerge as the starting three-down back the coaching staff thinks he can be, he can be a fantasy star as a rookie. His receiving upside is underrated, and concerns about his pass blocking are overblown. Free agency departures have left a massive number of targets up for grabs, and OTA reports indicate Penny could be one of the prime beneficiaries. While the best projections are more conservative in forecasting his impact as a receiver, there is a case to be made that he can significantly outperform expectations.

Other Views

From Shark Pool user socrates:

As a senior, Penny rushed for a whopping 2,248 yards (7.8 yards per carry) with 23 touchdowns, and he added 19 receptions for 135 yards and 2 TDs. Penny is a big back (5'11", 220 lbs) who runs with patience and agile feet, and he displays soft hands and an ability to run decent routes. It is easy to fall in love with his highlight reel, even if it was against lesser competition (Mountain West Conference). We have seen other recent small-school backs such as David Johnson and Kareem Hunt excel at the NFL level, and Penny, who was drafted considerably higher than either of those two, hopes to join that list. Penny’s reliable hands, patience, and vision earn him high marks, and he has a clear path to a prominent role, but concerns about his pass blocking and ability to grasp an NFL playbook, together with a struggling offensive line give some cause to tap the brakes. Seattle’s offensive line was historically awful in 2017. Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable was sent packing, and they added Right Guard DJ Fluker, but this line could still struggle to open up holes for the running game, and the Seahawks will put a premium on pass protection skills from their RB.

From Shark Pool user menobrown:

One thing I found interesting and that no one seems to think is worth discussing is that (Seahawks Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) spent a year as OC at Georgia so he had Michel and Chubb for a full year. Maybe his vote means nothing but just found it interesting that SEA preferred Penny over two RB's who would both go in next few picks over someone the OC worked with for a year.

From CBS Sports College Football Analyst Aaron Taylor:

“He is NFL-ready right now as a Day 1 starter because of his elite size and speed combination and his ability to make people miss in the open field. He wasn’t used heavily in the wide-open field as a receiver. ... but he’s got the skill set where he can find the hidden yards and run around you, through you or make you miss. And you just don’t see that blend of skills in running backs very often. His performance at the Senior Bowl I think supported that where he was taken in the first round of the draft was well worth it.”