Rashaad Penny Struggles Mightily In Pass Protection
Pass protection is Penny’s biggest flaw. He looks completely lost most of the time, out of position with poor technique. When he does get in good position and get his hands on a defender, he is often manhandled, and the result is usually the same. I’m not going to go in depth with the plays below. The struggles pretty much explain themselves. The question is, how much should this affect the evaluation of Penny as a whole?
Let’s start with the good news. Rashaad Penny has ideal size for a running back. This means that his ceiling for pass protection is relatively high. If he can figure out where he needs to be and how to properly use his frame to beat defenders, he could significantly improve to the point of being an above average pass protector.
Rashaad Penny is useful out of the backfield. That means that, if he can learn to pass protect, Rashaad Penny could certainly be an every down, every situation type of running back.
Now for the bad. Rashaad Penny looked completely outmatched in pass protection in nearly every situation he was put in. He was dominated by lower level competition, and completely embarrassed in his game against Stanford, the closest thing he saw to an NFL caliber defense. If he can’t even slow down the defenders from the smaller schools that he faced, how much improvement is it going to take to get to an adequate level in the NFL?
Inability to pass protect is something that can keep a running back off the field in passing situations. Some backs can overcome this with elite pass catching ability. Rashaad Penny is above average out of the backfield, but he isn’t elite. He certainly isn’t good enough to outweigh the legitimate concerns he brings in protection. He has the ability to, on his own, derail passing plays when he is asked to protect the quarterback.
So, early in his career, his inability to protect the quarterback will almost certainly cut into his third down work. Given the short shelf life of running backs in the NFL, every game is precious. How long a development time in this area is acceptable before his draft evaluation needs to take a hit. If he is a career two down running back, how good does he have to be to warrant a second round pick? I don’t have the answer to that question, and opinions seem to be varied, but it is certainly worth thinking about.
Rashaad Penny Shows Very Inconsistent Balance
Some people might see this as me nitpicking. I felt that way early in my evaluation, but came to decide that this is a bigger issue than I originally thought. Rashaad Penny gets tripped up so often that it is hard to unsee. I can’t go back and watch his tape without noticing how many of his runs end in him tripping with minimal contact to his lower body.
He runs well through contact. He has good leg drive that keeps him on his feet through high tackles, but his pad level is poor, which doesn’t help his balance. Additionally, I’m not sure he is as coordinated with his feet as running backs usually are. He doesn’t dead leg or give anything to defenders. This lack of flexibility results in a lot of plays where Rashaad Penny goes down to a single hand grazing his foot or leg.
The below play is obviously a single example. You can pull a single clip to illustrate anything about a player, but keep watching.
The next three clips are consecutive carries against New Mexico State. On each run, he nearly breaks for big yardage but is instead tripped up by a defender. These things happen sometimes, but they shouldn’t happen nearly as often as they do to Rashaad Penny.
These are simply examples where Penny gets taken down by a shoe lace. When you watch his tape, you will see a lot of examples of more forgivable plays where he goes down to solid contact to his lower body. Lowering his pad level might help the situation, or it might just be an issue of not having ideal balance for an NFL running back. If the issue is pad level, this can be fixed. If the issue is natural balance, this is not something you generally see a lot of improvement in with players.
While you can’t expect a back to maintain his balance through all of these plays, you would hope that he would stay on his feet significantly more often than he does. It is something that you don’t notice with a lot of other running backs simply because you don’t notice when a player does it well.
Balance is one of only two major flaws that I found in Penny’s skills as a pure runner. Again, you may think that this is nitpicking, but I encourage you to watch the tape again with this in mind. I think you will start to see this a lot more than you did the first time you ran through his tape.
Rashaad Penny Is An Upright Runner
I’ve written a good deal about Penny’s pad level. I have some examples for you below. While some upright runners have success at the NFL level, it is certainly something that negatively affects a player’s ability as a runner. Pad level is fixable. It is not always easy to change the way a player runs, but it is a technique issue that NFL teams can coach.
On the play below, Penny does a nice job of being patient, navigating through traffic, and using his lateral agility to manipulate the defense and utilize his blockers. He keeps his pad level too high and is ultimately brought down by a foot tackle that you would like to see him power through.
On the play below, the defender is almost standing completely straight up at the point of contact. Better pad level from Penny would have helped him break this tackle, or at least push forward for yards after contact. Instead, Rashaad Penny gets dragged down at the line of scrimmage.
Rashaad Penny Ball Security Issues
Similar to pass protection, ball security is a flaw that can keep running backs off the field. Some coaches will bench running backs for drives, or even games based on a single fumble. Other coaches are more lenient. How much this affects his playing time will largely depend on his landing spot.
Regardless, Rashaad Penny has had issues with holding on to the ball. This is never good news. Turnovers kill drives, change the tide of a game, and often result in direct points for the opposing team. Ball security is something that Rashaad Penny is going to have to make a conscious effort to fix. Even the most lenient coaches will start to lose patience at some point.
Ball security is definitely coachable if the player is willing to make an effort to fix the issue.
Rashaad Penny Summary
Rashaad Penny is one of the best pure runners in this class. I probably would put him as my third most complete runner. Unfortunately, there is more to being a running back than just running the football.
Penny has a good combination of speed, elusiveness and toughness. His vision and balance of patience and aggressiveness help to maximize his skill set and get the most out of what the defense offers him. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and, with some improvement and experience in route running, could be a serious contributor in the passing game.
Ball security and pass protection are skills that NFL teams covet. This is a passing league, and the quarterback is the most important position. Teams don’t take kindly to endangering their most important player. This is exactly what Rashaad Penny does on a regular basis. Additionally, he has trouble hanging on to the football. This can get a player benched and get them into the doghouse in a hurry with many coaches. His balance is often disappointing, and his pad level is consistently bad.
Outside of balance, most of his flaws are things that can be coached. This is good for Rashaad Penny. He will have the opportunity to round out his game at the NFL level with good coaching. His strengths are things that are tough to teach. Vision is something that a runner usually has or doesn’t. Penny has it. The combination of fixable flaws and uncoachable strengths gives Rashaad Penny among the highest upsides of any running back in this draft.
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