PALM BEACH, Fla.—When the Seahawks re-signed Rashaad Penny earlier this month, most people viewed the move as an important one for a team that was able to keep a running back who was one of their top offensive players in the final month of the season.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll saw the signing as something even bigger than that, calling Penny, "one of the best players in the league last year finishing up that football season."
Carroll is so excited about getting Penny back that, when he was asked a question Tuesday about Travis Homer during the NFL Annual Meeting, he said, "Thanks for bringing up Travis. Let's talk about Rashaad too." And after praising Homer's toughness and physical nature, Carroll went on to talk about Penny quite a bit.
"I'm really excited about Rashaad coming back," Carroll said. "The way he played at the end of the football season last year just jumped off the film. I don't know how we were able to get him back—maybe because of his history—but he was one of the best players in league last year finishing up that football season. The explosiveness that he generated, and the toughness and the consistency that just was so dead obvious at the end of the year, it just made it like a huge element for us to get that. We had to get him back on our club. So that was one of the negotiations that I was most concerned about and tuned into, because I did not want to lose this opportunity that he had finally really kind of put it all together in a way that was so obvious. He was one of the best guys in the league. The guy we had drafted, that's what we had looked for."
And while Penny will need to back up his finishing stretch to the 2021 season to truly put himself in the company of the NFLs' elite players, what he did over the final five weeks of the season did indeed put him in rare company. Penny rushed for an NFL leading 671 yards over the final five games of the year, and during that stretch he had eight runs of 25-plus yards, matching All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor for the most such runs in the entire season, and Taylor did that over the course of 332 carries compared to 119 for Penny. Those two backs were the only in the league to have two games with 170 or more yards last season, and were the only players to have 135 or more yards in four games (Taylor had five such games). Penny's 190-yard game in Week 18 was the second highest single-game total of the season behind Minnesota back Dalvin Cook's 205-yard game in Week 15.
Taylor also averaged an NFL-leading 6.3 yards per carry for the season, upping his career average to 5.6 yards per carry. And yes, it's a relatively small sample size due to the injuries that have limited Penny throughout his career, but that career average puts him in elite company.
Penny doesn't have enough carries to qualify among all-time leaders, but among those who do qualify, only two running backs have a career average better than 5.3 yards per carry, Marion Motley (5.7), who played in the 1940s and 50s, and Jamaal Charles (5.4). The entire list of running backs to average 5 yards per carry or better consists of Motley, Charles, Nick Chubb (5.3), Jim Brown (5.2), Mercury Morris (5.1), Aaron Jones (5.1), Joe Perry (5.0), Gale Sayers (5.0), Barry Sanders (5.0). And again, no one is arguing that at this stage Penny is on the level of Hall of Famers like Brown, Sayers and Sanders, but what his career average does show is that Penny has been incredibly explosive when he does stay healthy.
"I don't know if this is as impacting to you as it is to me, he's averaging 5.6 per carry for his career," Carroll said. "Look at the list of guys that have averaged 5 yards per carry in their career, they're some of the greatest players who ever played in the league, incredible players. He's got a better average than Gale (Sayers) and he's got a better average than Jim Brown. It's crazy that he's got those kinds of numbers, but that shows us that he's always been explosive throughout his years; he just hasn't been able to find the consistency. So the fact that now that it looks as though we've had that accomplished, and he's had this offseason underway where he's in great shape and he's working out and he's mentally in a great place and building towards this season, I'm as excited about that element of our football team as anything that we have coming back.
"He's going to come back, he's going to get the first shots—he deserves it, he's earned it—and if we can get him and Chris (Carson) back there battling, that 1-2 punch is all I can hope for. It's what we've envisioned; we just haven't been able to see it as much. He's been frustrated about it, but that frustration has put the chip on his shoulder that is exactly the kind of chip that you like. So we're really, really pumped up about this one."
As Carroll noted, part of the excitement about Seattle's running back room is the potential return of Carson, who missed most of last season with a neck injury that required surgery. Carson is feeling good and optimistic about his return, though Carroll did caution that they'll need to see how he holds up to contact before definitely declaring him back.
"Chris is feeling pretty good," Carroll said. "He's making progress, he's looking forward to playing. He thinks he's going to be able to pull it off. We're looking optimistically at it. He won't know until he gets back and really gets going. Physically he'll be able to run around and all that kind of stuff, it's just whether or not he can take the hits and all that kind of stuff. We'll have to wait and see, but he's planning on it."
Check out photos of Head Coach Pete Carroll at the Annual League Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida on March 29, 2022.