I recently researched the NFL draft prospects of San Diego State senior running back Rashaad Penny and was shocked by what I found. One writer thought Penny might be a fifth round pick or lower and criticized his speed and power. Others called him a “fringe player” at best. I watched Penny both last year and this year and I also had season tickets during Marshall Faulk’s three seasons at SDSU. They were both great college running backs, but Faulk was a number two overall NFL draft pick and had a Hall of Fame NFL career. Many people don’t think Penny is in the same conversation as Faulk, but Penny has accomplished some things during his college career that Faulk never did. To make my point that Penny should be a number one pick, let me first recount his accomplishments in college to make my case.
To begin with, Penny was NOT a starting running back until his senior season. That may seem like a knock, but the reason why is because the Aztecs number one back for several seasons was the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, Donnel Pumphrey. Despite that fact that he was the backup runner to Pumphrey in 2016, Penny still gained over 1,000 rushing while Pumphrey gained over 2,000 yards. No NCAA team had ever had both a 2,000 and 1,000 yard rusher on the same team before. Then this season the Aztecs became the only team to have to have two consecutive 2,000 rushing performances by two different players when Penny rushed for 2,295 yards. In his senior year Penny led the nation in rushing, total yards (2,974), and came in second in touchdowns (28). He won multiple honors for Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week as well as Special Teams POW. More honors have rolled in as he has been named to several All-American teams. Anyone can argue that Penny is not a great running back and I would go toe-to-toe with someone on that. However, if you try to argue that he’s not a great returner, don’t even start. Currently Penny is the co-holder for the most kickoff returns for a touchdown in NCAA history. He has seven overall (two this season) and the first time his head coach, Rocky Long, decided to use him as a punt returner Penny took that one to the house. Twice during his senior season Penny had a game when he scored three different ways. From short distance or 100 yards away, Penny finds a way to get into the end zone.
Penny’s last game in an Aztecs uniform came in the Armed Forces Bowl and he didn’t disappoint. Despite the fact that Army’s national leading running attack chewed up most of the clock, Penny made the most of his few chances. On his first official carry of the game he went 81 yards for a touchdown. After seven touches he broke that bowl game’s rushing record. After ten touches he surpassed over 200 yards rushing for the fifth straight time. On his 14th carry he collected his fourth touchdown of the game. However, one of his best plays was when he didn’t even touch the ball. On a short kickoff Penny’s teammate, Juwan Washington, was returning the kick when Penny flattened one of the Army’s finest with a devastating block. He continued to block another cadet into the end zone as Washington scored. Yeah, he can block.
Did I mention that he also caught two passes for TDs as well? Penny may not be ambidextrous, he just looks like it. In the game against Nevada he took a pitch going to his left, stopped, and started to throw a pass left-handed. The receiver was covered so he decided to run instead (for a TD). In the game against Air Force he was running a crossing route from left to right when his quarterback threw the ball high and behind Penny. He just reached back with his right hand and snared the ball one-handed. Yeah, he has great hands.