As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team’s roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we’re taking a look at every player at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Player: Elijhaa Penny
Position: Running back
Experience: 1st NFL season
Contract status: 2017-$465,000 (futures contract)
2016 season quick review: After an impressive showing in the Cardinals’ preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders, Penny put himself squarely in the conversation for a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. However, the Idaho product’s 100-yard effort was too little, too late, and the Cardinals wound up stashing the undrafted free agent away on the practice squad for the entirety of his rookie season.
Projected roster status: Penny was on the margins in 2016, and once again, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound bruiser should find himself in a thick competition for a roster spot in the Cardinals’ backfield. Though the Cardinals’ situation currently looks promising, if the team decides to add a veteran tailback via free agency, Penny’s spot on the team’s roster would very much be in jeopardy. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has offered high praise for Kerwynn Williams, and the team’s decision to use a fifth round draft choice on T.J. Logan suggests Logan will also have a roster spot. That could mean Penny would either have to outperform said veteran addition or Williams to carve out a role on the team’s 53-man roster, which is not going to be an easy task.
Projected depth chart status: If Penny does find a way to make the Cardinals’ roster this fall, he would likely play the same role former Arizona running back Stepfan Taylor held when he was with the franchise. Taylor was the Cardinals’ fourth running back and made occasional appearances on third downs and in short yardage situations, which are the types of situations Penny could thrive in. Penny is a rugged back who isn’t going to lose people in the open field, but he’s more than capable of grinding out tough yards or setting a block which is why he should remain in contention for a job until the very end of training camp.
CardinalsSource.com analysis: CardinalsSource is particularly high on Penny given the fact the Cardinals don’t have a big-bodied tailback on the team’s 90-man roster. There are creative ways Arizona could deploy Penny due to his combination of size and strength, and we think he’d make an excellent goal line or short yardage back for a team that is bound to overuse David Johnson at some point this season. What we like most about Penny is that he’s a relatively fluid mover for his size, and he’s durable enough to absorb contact and keep his legs running. Even though Penny was playing against lesser competition in the fourth week of the preseason last year, we thought he made a convincing case for a roster spot because he proved he was capable of being a full-service back who could specialize in certain situations that play to his strengths. If Penny doesn’t earn a spot on the Cardinals’ roster this season, it wouldn’t surprise us if he bolted for an opportunity on another 53-man roster or to a practice squad where he would need to overcome less to earn a promotion. The presence of Johnson makes it hard for the Cardinals to consider giving more opportunities to other backs, but we were intrigued by what Penny had to offer last fall and we’re eager to see how he’s developed when the Cardinals get on the field in fall camp.
Overall value: No team has the opportunity to extract more value out of its backfield than the Cardinals, who are headlined by Johnson who is entering the third year of his rookie contract. While neither Williams or Penny would receive enough opportunities to match Johnson’s value, simply contributing and filling a role will be more than enough for either player to justify their contract, especially for Penny who is still making less than $500,000.