While he's just 23-years-old, many had already written off Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny as a bust. Even though he put up more rushing yards than anyone in Division I football during his senior year at San Diego State, he wasn't valued as an elite NFL prospect. The Seahawks shocked everyone when they drafted him with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Penny rushed for just 419 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season. It seemed to validate the doubters, as Chris Carson was clearly the better player and took over as the clear-cut No. 1 back. This season, Penny's role shrunk even more. Through the first 10 weeks, he rushed for just 167 yards and three touchdowns. During the Seahawks' 27-24 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, Penny appeared to hit a low point. He was given just two rushes and fumbled one of those touches away. It certainly didn't look like Penny was developing into the dynamic playmaker that Seattle hoped he would be.
"It's been a big test," Penny said of his lack of playing time, via the team's official website. "But for me, it's just staying poised and just staying who I am, just being patient and waiting my turn, just trying to prove that I can play. But we've got a great running back in front of me in Chris, he shows it week in and week out, all last season and this season. So yeah, it gets kind of hard from me, but I just stay the guy I am, stay poised, just wait for my turn and my opportunities, then make the most out of them."
Penny was given a huge opportunity on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he definitely made the most of it. Carson was struggling, and head coach Pete Carroll inserted Penny into the game to see what he could do. Early in the fourth quarter, he broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown which extended the Seahawks' lead to double digits.
It was a play reminiscent of his time at San Diego State, when he was a big-play machine. In all, Penny put up a career-high 129 rushing yards on 14 carries and that big touchdown on Sunday.
"I have a feeling like that every week," Penny told reporters after the game. "You really don't know what can happen, it just happened this week. I'm just blessed and just grateful for the opportunity -- especially you know with what happened with the 49ers game, with the fumble. I'm thankful that the coaches gave me another opportunity just to go out and show what I can do."
"I've just been doing things different than what I did last year. I know last year as the season was progressing I was gaining weight. This year, they told me to be more of a professional and practice harder than I practiced in the past. I just take everything as a game like now, when I'm in practice or walk throughs -- I'm more keyed in, locked in and it's just all about opportunities."
Carroll was ecstatic that Penny had finally registered that elusive breakout performance, and he lauded his running back's work ethic after the win in Philadelphia.
"They all want to play, they all deserve to play, sometimes it just doesn't happen, and it's how you deal with it," Carroll said. "What he did is he got better, he's trimmer, he's faster. Look how fast he looked today. He looked like he was shot out of a canon. And that's because of the hard work, he got a little bit of fresh legs benefit and he took full advantage of it."
Penny's teammates knew that despite his lack of production on Sundays, Penny was always the big-play weapon that he was in college. They had witnessed it in practice and were just waiting for the rest of the world to see it.
"We got a lot of love for Penny," offensive tackle Duane Brown said. "We know he's a home-run hitter and he showed it. We were waiting, he was getting some runs -- getting four here, five there. We knew eventually he could break a big one and it happened."
While it was just one game, Penny's big performance could foreshadow what the Seahawks plan on doing moving forward. This team was high on Penny coming out of college, and Sunday proved that he should have more of a role in the offense. While the Seahawks are 9-2, they are still in second place in the NFC West behind the 49ers. San Francisco is known for its rushing attack -- as Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert have all been productive when given chances. Head coach Kyle Shanahan likes to rotate each one in and out of the lineup and use all three in different formations and distribute touches in unique ways. The Seahawks could elect to move forward like this, with Penny and Carson sharing touches in the backfield.
"We have all the confidence in the world in both of them," Wilson said. "Both of them are just great players. Really, to be a great running team, you've got to have two great running backs. … It's a great thing to have. You can alternate them, they can catch, they can run, they can pass protect, they can do all of the above."