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A healthy Rashaad Penny starting to look like quite a weapon


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A healthy Rashaad Penny starting to look like quite a weapon

The one thing we didn’t know about Penny was whether he could stay healthy, and a month into training camp, the results are encouraging

By Reuben Frank, Eagles Insider  Published August 22, 2023


Rashaad Penny looks fast. But we knew that.

Penny looks elusive. But we knew that, too.

He looks strong and tough and powerful. We knew all that, as well.

The one thing we didn’t know was whether Penny could stay healthy, and a month into training camp, the results are encouraging.

"I’m feeling great,” Penny said. "I can’t wait to take off.”

That’s great news for Penny and for the Eagles.

Penny, 27, has played in just 18 games over the last three seasons thanks to a series of injuries that really put his future into question.

"My career has been defined by me not being available,” he said after a recent practice.

He’s exactly why teams rarely draft running backs in the first round. The Seahawks made him the 27th pick in 2018, but he’s averaged just 67 carries in five seasons while earning over $16 million.

Penny is incredibly talented. His 5.7 career average is tied for highest in NFL history by a running back with at least 300 carries, and the guy he’s tied with – Marion Motley – is a Hall of Famer. (Technically, Motley leads Penny at 5.700 to Penny’s 5.691.)

But because of those constant injuries, the Seahawks gave up on him and the Eagles were able to sign him to a bargain-basement one-year, $1.35 million contract.

"I’ve had three years of that, where I would sit at home and watch my team play when I'm (injured),” Penny said. "Knowing the abilities and knowing what type of player I am, it's kind of frustrating, but I've got a good support system -- family, my girlfriend and my teammates and coaches. They obviously make things easier, but I'm excited just to go back and just play football again.”

How explosive is Penny?

  • Over the last three years, he has the 77th-most rushing attempts in the NFL but the ninth-most 20-yard runs (16) and fifth-most 40-yard TD runs (3).
  • With a 6.3 average in 2021 and a 6.1 last year, he’s one of only 12 running backs in NFL history with two seasons with a 6.0 average on 50 or more carries and one of just three RBs to do it in consecutive years (along with Motley from 1946 through 1948 and Jerious Norwood in 2006 and 2007).
  • His five games since 2020 with at least 135 rushing yards trail only Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor. But he’s only played 18 games since 2020, so he’s had 135 yards in 28 percent of his games over the last three years.
  • Penny has gotten 16 carries in a game five times and rushed for at least 135 yards in all five.

But you can’t bring up his name in NFL circles without the injuries being mentioned first.

"I mean, obviously, it puts me in a place where I'm just like, ‘I gotta prove people wrong,’” he said, quickly adding: "But I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong. To be honest, I really know what I can do. I feel like a lot of people know what I can do, as well. It's just about availability.

"And, you know, I don't go out to get hurt. I think people don't understand that. I play a very gruesome sport. I play at a running back position. I'm taking three to four hits (on each carry), maybe two to three guys on my back. But it's a gruesome sport. And the guys that stay healthy, I tip my hat off to them because I feel like it’s all luck.

"But I wish health on everybody. And people who've gone through the situations I've gone through, they know what it feels like. And when you come out on top, it's extra special.”

Penny, rotating with four other backs, got off to a little bit of a slow start in camp but has looked very good lately, and his roster spot is now secure. He’s gotten 11 carries in the two preseason games and averaged 4.7 yards and has looked fast and strong in practice.

Penny credits his weight drop from about 235 to about 225 for his healthy training camp.

"I dramatically changed my weight, my diet,” he said. "These guys (Eagles trainers and nutritionists), they stay on you about it. And, you know, that's the type of criticism I needed. And, you know, they pushed me to a level where I truly believed I wouldn't get to. Physically, this is probably the best I've ever felt.

"It’s just want-to. I want to go and get a Philly cheesesteak right now, but it’s just want-to. I’ve got to do this and do that. I just put my pride to the side and I feel like this is really my last year where I can (have the chance to) play to my fullest potential because that's just how it is.”

As for the competition with D’Andre Swift, Kenny Gainwell, Boston Scott and Trey Sermon, Penny said it’s brought out the best in all the backs this summer. Himself included.

"I just think everything is all out of love,” he said. "We all know what the fighting goal is. That's what I like about this group. We're just so competitive, but at the end of the day, when we're in our locker rooms or in the meeting rooms, we've got probably the best bonds. These guys, they're true professionals.”


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