Only the third Aztec to earn consensus All-America honors,
joining Marshall Faulk (1992, 1993) and Kyle Turley (1997).
Finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting after posting
the fifth-highest single-season rushing yardage total in FBS
history in 2017 (2,248) as well as the fifth-highest single-season
all-purpose yardage total (2,974).
One of four FBS running backs to ever record five straight
200-yard rushing games (Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders and Jamario
Won Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year in three
consecutive seasons (2015-17); eight career return scores, including
seven on kickoffs (tying a NCAA record).
Set an Armed Forces Bowl record with 221 yards rushing and
scored a career-high four rushing touchdowns on only 14 carries
in his final college game.
High-end NFL Player Comp(s):
Thomas Jones Low-end NFL Player Comp(s):
Best Scheme Fit: As an early-down back in a zone-blocking scheme initially, at least until he can be trusted as a blocker in the passing game. Note: All times listed in parentheses
in strengths/weaknesses section reflect the start time on video
- via Draft Breakdown - that displays that skill/trait.
Near-ideal size with limited wear-and-tear. (487 career carries).
Ball security not a huge concern (three fumbles - two lost
- on 308 offensive touches in 2017), although he struggled with
it during Senior Bowl practices.
Limited involvement in the passing game (42 career receptions).
Split out on occasion but didn't get much of a chance to
show off route-running sophistication.
Even when running to the left, usually keeps ball in right
arm (0:54, 3:17, 3:35, 9:55); however, he will shift ball
from left to right when running to the right. (9:33)
Penny leads all running backs in this draft class with 3.32 yards
per carry when contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage. He
broke 82 tackles as a runner and receiver - over 20 more than
any of his draft classmates - and led them all in broken tackle
rate. His 31 runs of 15-plus yards also ranks first. (All stats
per Pro Football Focus.) Now let's put some context on those analytics.
He averaged 3.8 YPC, 76.3 rushing yards per game and scored a
total of one rushing touchdown against the three defenses he faced
who ranked inside the top 50 in run defense. He averaged 8.9 YPC,
201.9 yards per game and ran for 22 TDs versus the other 10 run
defenses - all of which ranked 55th or lower, including five who
finished 110th or worse. Regarding his impressive numbers when
contacted near the line of scrimmage, this is your latest reminder
not all "contact" is created equal. That especially
seemed to be the case with Penny, who rarely got squared up by
tacklers regardless of where he was on the field.
A between-the-tackles grinder who often got to the edge, Penny
frustrated me with his inability to pull away from second-level
defenders. On most of his big runs, he didn't need to hit the
gas because there was no one even within five yards of him - something
that is hardly his fault - but evaluators want to see backs who
can destroy defensive pursuit angles and that was not often the
case with him. Most of Penny's huge runs can be attributed to
the fact most of the Aztecs' opponents didn't have the athletes
on defense to make up ground on Penny once he got a head start.
(To that end, his longest run against the aforementioned top three
run defenses was 25 yards … on 61 carries.) Combine his
talent with a ton of volume and add above-average offensive line
play plus a host of bottom-half Division I run defenses together,
and we have a running back who should rush for around 2,000 yards.
Ideally, Penny begins his pro career as a physical early-down
complementary back in a committee. If he can play to his timed
speed more often and become even an average pass-blocker (he is
easily the worst of the backs I have evaluated so far), then he's
got a shot at being a three-down back in the NFL. However, it
cannot be assumed every back will evolve into a good blocker,
so this weaknesses should not be taken too lightly. Fortunately,
he appears to be a capable receiver, so perhaps he can earn the
trust of his team in all facets of the passing game by his second
year. In the meantime, he should provide immediate value on special
teams; the same vision and patience that serves him well as a
runner should translate to the next level as a returner. As a
running back, his playing style - between the tackles - should
make him a coach's favorite. While I'm not going to forecast greatness
in his future barring a perfect landing spot, he is more than
capable of a solid if unspectacular career in the league.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.