Penny Signing Gives Needed Punch To Birds Backfield
Following a relatively idle start to the NFL free-agent legal tampering period, the Eagles were unusally active Tuesday, agreeing to terms with running backs Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott, and cornerback James Bradberry.
While the announcement of the Bradberry re-signing will dominate headlines across the Delaware Valley, perhaps an overlooked footnote is the fact that the Penny signing – and Scott’s re-signing – effectively spelled the end of Miles Sanders’ four-year tenure with the Eagles.
Sanders, 25, is coming off a career season, compiling 1,269 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, despite an incredulous snap share of just 57 percent.
Furthermore, Sanders achieved 90 rushing yards or more in six games, appearing in all 20 games. His 259 carries were 80 more than his previous high.
Though frequently criticized for indecisive running, absence in the passing game, and his durability concerns – not to mention being seemingly phased out of the offense by season’s end – Sanders still offered production and big-play upside that’ll be difficult to replace.
The Penn State product never showcased prototypical bell-cow traits or an ability to handle volume. His skill-set appears to be best-served in an offense employing a diversified two-headed rushing attack.
Penny, on the other hand, conceivably provides a high-octane Eagles offense with a sorely needed power rush element.
It’s conceivable, of course, because there’s risk involved in moving forward with him as a prominent fixture to the backfield.
The 27-year-old has missed 37 games over the past four seasons due to a multitude of injuries, most recently from a season-ending broken fibula, which ended his 2022 campaign after only five games.
Penny finished with 346 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 57 carries in addition to contributing four receptions for 16 yards.
Perhaps his most prolific stretch of play occurred during a five-week run to close out 2021, when he accumulated 671 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 92 carries.
When healthy, the former first-round pick is a patient, between-tackles bulldozer armed with explosive traits and a knack for playing through contact and finishing runs.
Penny has also improved as a pass-protector. But even his contract – a modest 1-year $1.35 million deal with $600,000 guaranteed per NFL Network – would appear to account for the precariousness.
Sporting a rocked-up, 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame, Penny is poised to fulfill a glaring vacancy in Philadelphia’s backfield. A skill-set diversification in the backfield was necessary to implement a smash-mouth dimension into the offense.
For perspective, the team’s most efficient short-yardage runner last season in high leverage moments was quarterback Jalen Hurts.
With so much of the team’s long-term success predicated on Hurts’ health, it’ll need the 24-year-old quarterback to refrain from calling his own number in those scrums as frequently, despite the 36-of-39 conversion on sneaks, which only enhances Penny’s value.
With Penny leading the way, the Eagles’ backfield should look markedly different next season.
Equipped to handle the heavy lifting in theory, Penny’s arrival should enable third-year pro Kenny Gainwell and Scott to thrive as change-ups, putting unique stresses on defenses and attacking at every level.
Penny might not produce the big-play highlight reels of his predecessor, but his presence will be more conducive to the offense’s functionality.
Billed as an early-down runner in what could end up becoming a four-way timeshare – third-year pro Trey Sermon is an intriguing prospect coming off a redshirt season – Penny was presumably brought in to serve as the engine that powers the ground game.
Sure, he’s a non-factor in the passing game – just 27 career catches – and that ultimately caps his usage, but Penny’s value could be another gold strike for the Eagles on one-year rentals.
Health permitting, of course.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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