Think about his wild, across-body heave to find Luke Willson in that famous play against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship. Wilson scrambled to his left, and eluded a number of defenders before finding the other Willson on the opposite side of the field. That play required athleticism, creativity, arm strength and grit. Few quarterbacks have that combination of skills — if any.
Think about Doug Baldwin’s miracle catch against the Arizona Cardinals last season. Wilson wiggled away from countless defenders, and heaved the ball to Baldwin, who brought the ball into the red zone. Athleticism, creativity, arm strength.
Baldwin has long been Wilson’s partner in crime. They’re the co-captains of the Seahawks’ improv group. But it sounds like they’re about to get another impactful member: first-round running back Rashaad Penny.
“He’s outstanding as an outlet receiver in scramble situations. So it seems like new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might have a nice way for making defenses pay for chasing Russell Wilson.”
Not only was Penny dominant as a runner inside and outside the tackles, but he was also excellent in the passing game. In particular, he would beat up opponents on wheel routes, which, admittedly, are not a product of his abilities in scramble situations. His moments as a check down receiver were less explosive. But he did manage to help his team turn negative plays into positive plays. For example, against Stanford in 2017, quarterback Christian Chapman was on the verge of getting sacked. Penny calmly threw up his hand to let Chapman know where he was. Entrenched in defenders, Chapman found Penny, who went for a 13-yard game. The play even looked like one Wilson might make.
Penny did something similar against Arizona State. His quarterback was under pressure in the pocket, and Penny found open field, where he beat a defender for a 33-yard touchdown. Again, not the scramble drill.
Penny’s best work actually came when his quarterback couldn’t deliver the ball to him. Chapman would begin to scramble, and for lack of elite athleticism, would get tackled before he could get the ball to Penny. With Wilson, that may not be a problem. Penny’s ability to identify space for a bailout won’t be lost on Wilson, who is the king of finding time to deliver the ball.
The most obvious representation of Penny’s big-play abilities during the scramble drill in 2017 came after the season was over. Penny’s touchdown in the Senior Bowl put those abilities on display. Penny ran to the flat, but seeing that the quarterback was scrambling out of the pocket, Penny took off upfield, where the quarterback found the running back for a big touchdown,
These are the sorts of plays that NFL defensive coordinators should worry even more about. Wilson was already a problem when plays break down. He was already dangerous outside the pocket, whether the play designed him to be there or not. But that was before he had Penny, another player who may soon become notorious for enabling Wilson’s improvisational success.
This will only be a fraction of how Penny contributes to the Seahawks’ offense. He’ll run between the tackles — he’ll catch screen passes and probably wheel routes. But that skill as an improviser is what makes him a sensational fit for the Seattle’s offense. And it’s what could make Penny one of Wilson’s favorite targets immediately.