What to do with Rashaad Penny? That’s a hot question following the running back’s phenomenal end-of-the-season run. Finally healthy and getting thrust into a starting role following injuries to Chris Carson and Alex Collins, Penny shined. Over the final five weeks of the 2021 season, the fourth-year pro churned out 671 yards and six touchdowns on 92 carries – good for averages of 134.2 yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry – by far the best production of his injury-riddled career.
If he had somehow sustained his averages from the final five weeks over an entire 17-game season, the 5-11, 220-pound running back would have finished with 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns – meaning he would have been the new record holder for rushing yards in a single season (currently held by Eric Dickerson with 2,105 yards over 16 games in 1984). While it is doubtful he would be able to maintain an average of 134.2 yards per game over an entire season, it’s still something to think about.
With that kind of production, Penny will likely garner a lot of interest from running back-needy teams this offseason, which is exactly what Seattle is. Sure, the Seahawks have Carson – who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 – under contract through 2022, but the five-year veteran has missed 17 games over the last two seasons, including 13 this year.
Injured running backs are all too familiar for Seattle, and the main argument against signing Penny to a long-term, expensive deal is, of course, his injury history. In his four seasons since being selected 27th overall by Seattle in the 2018 NFL Draft, Penny has played in a mere 37 games, with all six of his starts coming in 2021. His career rushing totals would match that of a player who put up outstanding stats for a single season – 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns on 280 carries. His career average of 5.6 yards per attempt is incredible, but his career high for rushing attempts in a season before those final five weeks of 2021 was 85 during his rookie campaign.
If you do the math – which you don’t have to since I’ve done it for you – you’d see that nearly half (47 percent) of Penny’s career yards came in 2021 with 749. Of that, he gained 671 from Weeks 14 through 18. Therefore, the 25-year old gained roughly 43 percent of his four-year career total rushing yardage in the last five games of 2021 – not the overall expected production from a first-round pick four years into his career. Still, an optimistic view is that Penny finally showed what he had had the potential to do all along.
Will the Seahawks take a chance after seeing what they had envisioned back in 2018 somewhat finally come to fruition? Or will Seattle let Penny walk as it seems intended after refusing to pick up the running back’s fifth-year option last offseason?
If it were up to me, I’d avoid paying top dollar and try to lock up Penny on a one- or two-year deal for middle-of-the-run running back money and focus on finding a long-term solution in the draft. Running backs have a short shelf life as is, and banking on an already injury-riddled veteran just isn’t what this franchise needs after its worst season in 12 years.
As a bonus, I will continue my picks and look at this week’s playoff games. For the first time in NFL history, 14 teams made the postseason. And there will be six Wild Card games airing between Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – hence it being referred to as “Super Wild Card Weekend.”
My season picks record: 8-8 last week, 132-79 overall
Las Vegas (10-7) at Cincinnati (10-7) – Saturday
The Raiders won an absolutely insane game against the Chargers in Week 18 to reach the postseason. Had the two teams tied, both would have made the playoffs, and Pittsburgh would be out. Instead, Vegas kicked a field goal as time expired in overtime to win 35-32. Look it up if you didn’t watch or haven’t read about it.
Cincinnati’s loss to Cleveland was not as exciting as the Bengals had already locked up the AFC North title. Cincy downed Vegas 32-13 in Week 11. The Bengals are inconsistent but explosive. I expect the offense to awaken and be too much to handle for the Black and Silver.
Pick: Bengals 30, Raiders 24
New England (10-7) at Buffalo (11-6) – Saturday
The AFC North division rivals split the season series and will face each other for a third time this year. I highly doubt the Bills want to see Belichick again, but they’re probably ok with a rookie QB (Mac Jones) coming into their house for a pressure-filled showdown in January. Buffalo should win a defensive battle here.
Pick: Bills 20, Patriots 16
Philadelphia (9-8) at Tampa Bay (13-4) – Sunday
The Eagles had won four straight before Week 18’s 51-26 thumping by Dallas. Tampa is riding a three-game winning streak into the postseason. The Bucs beat Philly 28-22 back in Week 6. Upsets happen all the time, but I don’t see a Tampa falling this week.
Pick: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 23
San Francisco (10-7) at Dallas (12-5) – Sunday
This one is interesting. On paper, the Cowboys are the easy pick. However, the 49ers showed a lot of fight and determination coming back from 17 points down to beat the Rams in Week 18 and earn a playoff berth. I honestly didn’t think I would go this way, but I’m picking San Francisco in a surprising upset.
Pick: 49ers 24, Cowboys 23
Pittsburgh (9-7-1) at Kansas City (12-5) – Sunday
Now my favorite story from Week 18. The Steelers essentially won the lottery last week. Perhaps the most unlikely team still “in the hunt” for a playoff berth at 8-7-1 entering Week 18, Pittsburgh needed to win on the road in Baltimore, have a 9-7 Indianapolis team miraculously lose to the league’s worst team (Jacksonville), and hope the Raiders and Chargers wouldn’t end in a tie. Sure enough, the Steelers pulled out a 16-13 overtime win over the Ravens, and the Colts were embarrassed 26-11 by the Jaguars. As mentioned above, it was close, but Las Vegas beat the Chargers, and into the playoffs Pittsburgh went.
That all being said, this week won’t be nearly as kind to Pittsburgh. These two teams met in Week 16, and the Chiefs walked away with a 36-10 win. Kansas City will be the last team Ben Roethlisberger ever faces.
Pick: Chiefs 38, Steelers 17
Arizona (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5) – Monday
Another game between division rivals who each won one of the previous matchups during the regular season. The difference here is the trajectory of the two teams. The Cardinals started strong, looking like the best team for the first ten or so weeks, but finished with a 1-4 record to close out the season. In their final six games, the Rams went 5-1 to snag the NFC West out of Arizona’s clutches. Rivalry games are almost always hard to predict, but it feels like Arizona has lost a lot of confidence, and LA should take advantage.
Pick: Rams 32, Cardinals 21