All eyes will be on the 3rd overall pick, but the 3rd round pick is very important considering the Jets won’t make a selection in the 2nd round in either of the next two drafts (barring a trade). Leading up to the draft, Joe Malfa will take a look at some potential targets who are capable of stepping in and helping the Jets right away.
RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
2017 Stats: 289 carries, 2,248 yards, 23 TDs; 19 catches, 135 yards, 2 TDs; 17 kick returns, 521 yards, 2 TDs
Career Stats: 487 carries, 3,643 yards, 38 TDs; 42 catches, 479 yards, 6 TDs; 81 kick returns, 2,449 yards, 7 TDs
Penny has the size and skillset to be an every-down back, and he will immediately have a major impact on special teams as a return man. He has a strong, thick lower body that allows him to power through arm tackles at the line of scrimmage and push the pile for an extra couple of yards at the end of plays. He runs a bit like Le’Veon Bell around the line of scrimmage. I am not saying Penny is on Bell’s level, but he runs with the same patience and has the same knack for allowing blocks to set up before making a cut and bursting through the hole. His speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and elusiveness allow him to turn runs that seem like they may go for two or three yards into big plays.
This 49-yard touchdown against Army in this season’s bowl game showcased two of Penny’s strengths — speed and patience. He was patient at the line, using a quick little stutter-step to allow a massive hole to open up. Once he saw the gap, he hit it hard and used that 4.46 speed to leave everyone in the dust.
A 33-yard touchdown run from the same game is a better showcase of Penny’s patience and the parallel to Le’Veon Bell. No hole opened initially, but Penny hesitated, allowed a hole to materialize, made a smooth cut, turned on the jets, and found pay dirt.
Penny is patient around the line of scrimmage, but he can be a bit frustrating to watch when he gets to the second-level. He does not always follow his blocks and sometimes misses cutback lanes because he is almost too decisive, locking onto a path and sticking to it regardless of the way the play develops around him. As is the case with most young, inexperienced running backs, Penny also tries to bounce too many runs to the outside even though the right decision would be to stay between the numbers. Penny is a capable blocker and has good hands, but he needs to improve his route-running.
I view Penny as this year’s Kareem Hunt. He will likely end up in the 3rd round because no aspect of his game is overtly special, but he is pro-ready and can be the most productive running back in this rookie class if he ends up in the right situation.
I am working under the assumption Bilal Powell gets traded to a team in need of a running back during training camp. There’s no “source” to confirm this, but he is nearing 30 and the Jets just traded three 2nd round picks. If they can get a 4th or 5th round pick for him in a deal with a team in need of a running back, they will jump all over that. With that being said, Penny would enter the season behind Isaiah Crowell on the depth chart if selected by the Jets. Crowell would get the lion’s share of the carries in the first few games, but Penny could eat into that total with each passing week before eventually supplanting Crowell as the primary back. This was supposed to be the plan for Hunt last season with Spencer Ware serving as the “Isaiah Crowell” of the equation. Ware suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, which allowed Hunt to shine sooner than anticipated.
It is a very deep running back class, but Penny is arguably my favorite among the mid-round options. If the Jets are serious about improving the running back position in the draft, they need to take a long look at Penny.
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