Turns out, the Seahawks really are serious about fixing the running game this year.
So serious, they set aside needs at least as pressing at pass rusher and cornerback and surprised just about everyone—including the guy they picked—by trading down nine spots in round one then drafting San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny with the 27th pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.
Coach Pete Carroll said days after last season ended, with Seattle out of the playoffs for the first time in six years, his first priority was improving the rushing offense. The most direct ways to do that: get better runners, and better blockers for those runners.
Then Carroll and the Seahawks made one of the most surprising moves in the league in round one—and made Penny only the third running back the team has drafted in the first round.
The others: Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander.
"It was fun as hell," Carroll said Thursday night. "We had a blast tonight."
Back to his sunny nature after a 2017 season that wore him down, the coach almost skipped into the team's defensive meeting room to talk to the media after the first round ended.
As soon as he sat and before all cameras were rolling Carroll said, preemptively: "I don't mind saying it: I'm jacked about this pick!"
Penny sounded as wowed as he was thrilled to be the first San Diego State running back selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk in 1994.
"We didn't expect this. It's amazing," Penny said Thursday night from his draft party with about 50 people packed into his home in Norwalk, California.
"The mocks and the predictions on me, they don't mean anything. Now that it's real, it doesn't matter what the projections say.
"I am just so blessed right now!"
Yes, most predictions before the draft figured Penny as a second-round choice on Friday. He was rated behind Derrius Guice of LSU, Ronald Jones of USC and Sony Michel from Georgia. All three of those backs were still on the board at 27.
The Seahawks obviously didn't rate Penny that way. They made him the second running back taken in the draft. Penn State's wondrous Saquon Barkley went second hours earlier, to the New York Giants.
Michel got drafted by New England four spots after Seattle took Penny.
How life-changing was the moment the Seahawks called for Penny?
Penny, 5 feet 11 and 220 pounds, led the nation with 2,248 yards rushing yards with 23 touchdowns last season for the Aztecs. He is a physical back with 4.46 speed in the 40-yard dash. He's known as a guy who seeks to run through holes and over people rather than away from them.
He did all that at San Diego State in his only season starting there, as a senior last fall. He spent years as the backup to Donnell Pumphrey, who left SDSU as college football's career rushing leader. An attraction to the Seahawks: Penny has less wear than most college runners entering the NFL; he had only 613 career touches in college, hundreds fewer than most backs who leave as seniors.
"SEATTLE WHATS GOOD!!" Penny posted on his Twitter account Thursday night.
With team owner Paul Allen at Carroll's right in the Seahawks' draft room, the Seahawks made a first-round pick instead of trading all the way out of it for only the second time in the last six years.
Carroll and Schneider noted Penny's excellence as a kickoff returner and punt returner in college; he had two kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt-return score as a senior.
Carroll said Penny will compete right away to be a kick returner for the Seahawks, and take some of that load off Pro Bowl returner Tyler Lockett. It just so happens Lockett's rookie contract ends after this year.
Indeed, Penny is more of an every-down back that just about every other back. He can catch the ball, too, and on fourth downs he returns punts.
As for drafting runner over the new pass rusher and cornerback they need to be starting this season: Seattle's running backs were 32nd, last, in the league last season in rushing yards produced. The days of quarterback Russell Wilson leading the team in rushing, by hundreds of yards, must end.
So must draft risks.
One year after they selected with their top choice Malik McDowell, the defensive lineman who may never play for them because of an ATV accident and head injuries last summer, Carroll and Schneider mentioned multiple times how humble and well-raised Penny is, how put-together his life is.
"I can do whatever it takes to help win a game, that's for sure. That's the mindset I am bringing to Seattle," Penny said. "We are a hard-working, blue-collar family. My oldest brother, Elijhaa, a running back with Arizona), made it into the NFL as an undrafted free agent, and...it's just amazing."
Penny is well aware Marshawn Lynch isn't in Seattle anymore, and that the Seahawks' once-dominant running game sunk to one of the league's weakest in 2017. Seattle had a grand total of one rushing touchdown last season—by a converted wide receiver, J.D. McKissic.
"That definitely means that they need someone in there to help, and I am the right guy for that. I'm excited," he said.
"I want to bring that team back to where it was a few years ago...I want to thank everyone in that organization for trusting me."
Penny joins Chris Carson, the 2017 seventh-round pick returning from a broken leg and ankle-ligament injuries, former practice-squad player Mike Davis and often-injured C.J. Prosise as true running backs in the Seahawks' backfield. And Prosise was a wide receiver for most of his time at Notre Dame before the Seahawks drafted him in the third round in 2016.
Earlier Thursday evening, Seattle made a trade involving its first-round pick for the seventh consecutive year. General manager John Schneider made a deal with his former employers in Green Bay to move down from the 18th pick to the 27th in round one. The Seahawks also gained a third-round choice they were missing and a sixth-round pick they also did not have entering the draft.
The official deal: Seattle traded the 18th pick plus a seventh-round selection (248 overall) to Green Bay for the 27th pick in round one, a third-round choice (76) and sixth-round pick (186).
Seattle goes from 8 to nine picks in this draft, and get in rounds it wasn't in before today. The eight that would have tied 2015 for their fewest choices in a draft under Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
Thursday's deal down was the 55th trade involving at least one draft choice in the nine years Carroll and Schneider have been running the Seahawks.
As usual, quarterback dictated Thursday's first round. The four passers taken in the first 10 picks—Baker Mayfield to Cleveland at number one, Sam Darnold third to the Jets, Josh Allen to Buffalo at seven and Josh Rosen to Arizona at 10—set a league record for most QBs drafted quickest.
The Seahawks have eight picks remaining. Friday they have the 12th pick of the third round, 76th overall. The priority there: get a pass rusher, in the wake of trading Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril's neck injury that has his career in doubt.
Saturday they have one selection in round four, four choices in round five, now one in the middle part of round six and one in the seventh and final round.