O’Neil: If Seahawks pick Rashaad Penny works out, it will be rare 1st-round RB success
Most people were concerned about the player Seattle chose in the first round of the NFL Draft.
I’m worried about the position.
Running backs aren’t as valuable as you’d think in a game where every coach talks about the need to establish the run. They’re not as valuable in the free-agent market. They’re not as valuable in the draft, chosen less frequently in the first round over the past decade.
It’s the reason why I hoped the Seahawks wouldn’t choose a running back in the top 20.
Instead, they chose one with the 27th pick, selecting Rashaad Penny with a pick that originally belonged to New Orleans but had been acquired by Green Bay.
The first round is where most NFL teams try to find their franchise quarterback.
It’s where the Seahawks are determined to fix their running game.
That’s a big part of why they picked Germain Ifedi in the first round two years ago, and it’s the only reason the zeroed in on Penny, a player that general manager John Schneider said they would have chosen at No. 18 had they not traded back to No. 27, picking up a third-round pick in the process.
Seattle’s selection surprised everyone, including the guy the Seahawks picked.
No, wait – especially the guy Seattle picked.
“We didn’t expect this,” Penny said in a conference call with reporters at the Seahawks headquarters. “It’s amazing.”
That remains to be seen.
The rationale for Seattle’s selection was pretty straightforward. Their run game was beyond bad last season. Quarterback Russell Wilson led the team in rushing yards and accounted for three of the team’s four rushing touchdowns. The running backs gained a net total of zero yards on carries inside the 10-yard line.
“We know the running game helps every aspect of our team,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Which meant the Seahawks were stuck last year.
There’s no doubt about Seattle’s intentions: The Seahawks want to run the ball like they did back when Marshawn Lynch was setting the tone.
There’s no guarantee this will be effective, though.
Over the past 20 years, running backs chosen in the first round have not been more likely to excel than backs chosen in later rounds. Stars are as likely to be found in later rounds as they are in the first. Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards. He was a third-round pick out of Toledo. New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was a third-round choice, too.
Seattle’s best running back last season was Chris Carson, a seventh-round pick who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in October.
Once he went out, any sense of momentum in the ground game vanished. Eddie Lacy was costly and ineffective. C.J. Prosise was injured, and while Mike Davis returns after having the most rushing yards of any running back on the team last season, that’s faint praise.
So the Seahawks went and added the nation’s top collegiate rusher, having gained 2,248 yards last season for San Diego State. He also scored 23 touchdowns, has returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns in college and scored on a punt return, too, for good measure.
General manager John Schneider said a team called him after the Seahawks selected Penny, offering to trade for the running back. It was the first time Schneider could remember that happening, and it speaks to the fact that people who felt the Seahawks chose a player who would have been available in the third round don’t know what they’re talking about.
The Seahawks got the running back they wanted. Saquon Barkley of Penn State – the second player taken in the draft – was the only running back off the board when the Seahawks picked.
Now, we’ll have to see if he can be the increasingly rare running back who proves himself worthy of a first-round pick.