Summary: The 2018 NFL Draft is very strong at the running back position, and Penny is one of those runners who could turn into a starter after being a second-day pick. The NFL wants backs who possess three-down ability with the skills to contribute as runners, receivers and blockers. Teams also are always looking for big backs who have the speed to break off long runs. Penny has the potential to fulfill all of these wishes, and as a result, there should be plenty of teams that consider taking him on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Over the past few seasons, Penny was a consistent producer for San Diego State, and as a senior, he was one of the best backs in college football. As a junior, Penny averaged 7.4 yards per carry for 1,005 yards with 11 touchdowns. He caught 15 passes for 224 yards and three scores that season as well. In 2017, Penny dominated the competition while averaging 7.8 yards per carry for 2,248 yards with 23 touchdowns, plus he had 19 receptions for 135 yards and two scores.
As a back, Penny is a thickly built downhill runner. He has a surprising burst to hit the hole and accelerate to the second level. Penny is fast for a big back and can run away from the defense when he gets to the open field. His second gear is very impressive and makes him dangerous to rip off long runs on any carry. Penny combines quick, feet, good balance, and decisive running to be a dangerous runner for a zone-blocking system. That kind of system would be his best fit in the NFL.
As a receiver, Penny is a great fit for the current offensive systems in the NFL. He runs good routes, has soft hands, and is able to find soft spots in the defense for his quarterback. Penny is dangerous in the open field, as defensive backs struggle to stop him coming downhill. Penny needs to improve his blocking, but he has potential there. Once he does, he could be a strong three-down back with the ability to hurt defenses as a runner or a receiver, or in protecting his quarterback.
"Penny is super talented," said a NFC director of college scouting. "He is a smooth runner, athletic, has some [speed], is good in the pass game and a returner. His makeup and work ethic isn't great. He has learning issues, so he might need to start with a 7-8 touches-per-game role until he learns to enough to gradually expand it."
The issues with learning could be seen at the Senior Bowl, where Penny turned in an unimpressive week of practice. He was playing slowly, seemingly thinking too much on the field. As a result, Penny might need some developmental time learning the playbook before he is able to make an impact for his NFL team. While Penny develops, he could have a limited role on offense and also contribute as a returner on special teams.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Penny looks likely to be a second- or third-round pick.
Player Comparison: David Johnson. Some team sources have compared Penny to Johnson. It makes sense as both are big, thick running backs who have a surprising burst with the ability to contribute in the passing game. Johnson was a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and Penny could go in the same frame this year. Penny's mental limitations could keep him from being as effective as Johnson, and in the NFL, I don't think Penny will be as good as Johnson. I think Penny could be a poor man's Johnson.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland, Detroit, San Francisco and Indianapolis
There are a lot of teams that could consider taking Penny on the second day or in the mid-rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns could move on from Isaiah Crowell and could use another back in their offense. Penny could make sense for one of their second-day picks.
In the Big Apple, the Giants could use a feature back for their offense, and Penny would give them a three-down weapon they haven't had. The Jets also will have to replace Matt Forte before long, and Penny's receiving ability would make him a good replacement for Forte. Penny could be a nice complement to Bilal Powell.
Oakland badly needs more consistency from its rushing offense. Predictably, Marshawn Lynch was a disappointment after coming out of retirement. The Raiders need a true feature back to go with Derek Carr. Penny's receiving ability would be a great fit for Jon Gruden.
Similarly, the Colts could use a running back of the future to pair with Andrew Luck and bring a more steady rushing attack to their offense. Penny would be a good fit on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft for Indianapolis.
For years now, the Lions have had one-dimensional offense with one of the worst rushing attacks in the league. Detroit needs a true No. 1 back to bring some balance to its offense. Penny would a good fit for that organization.
San Francisco could use a receiving back for Kyle Shanahan's offense. That is the kind of back Shanahan likes and prefers. Penny would be a nice fit for the 49ers.