I want you to think back to how football was played at the dawn of the game’s induction. Rugged, tough, unrelenting physical contact where rules were minimal and helmets were an afterthought, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning exemplifies the tackle spot to a T. An offensive anchor with a nasty approach to the trenches where he looks to embarrass and staple defenders to the dirt, Penning has quickly become one of the prospects who has stood out early in Mobile this week. When you think of offensive linemen, the big uglies, the hog mollies up front, many adjectives come to mind, but a 6-foot-7, 320-pound mountain of man is the ideal body type you’d fantasize if you were asked to “create a player” tasked with anchoring your front five. As the COVID pandemic ravaged the globe, Penning’s process to fully blossom into the talent he thought he could be came face to face with an obstacle unforeseen by any stretch of the imagination. Limited access to facilities both on, and off campus, Penning had to improvise to maintain his impressive frame and prototype NFL body. With open space in his Clear Lake, Iowa home, Penning found his avenue. While access to weights, barbells, and other training equipment proved vacant from his mock in-home garage workout area at first, it was something—anything—to keep Penning active. “Me and my brother would just go in there and do bodyweight stuff at first,” Penning said. “It was boring without weights though [so] we just went on Facebook MarketPlace and bought everything available.” The next product out of Northern Iowa that touts the necessary makeup to start from day one on the perimeter of an NFL offensive line, Penning, like 2021 NIU product Spencer Brown, has displayed all the necessary traits to eventually become an every-down starter at the next level. While the program is by no means known for its production of annual NFL talent—Penning looks to become just the third tackle drafted from the program since 2009 (Chad Rinehart, Spencer Brown)—longtime head coach Mark Farley has produced an array of draft-eligible talent, most recently in the form of Brown, a third-round pick of the Buffalo Bills last spring, and edge rusher Elerson Smith, a fourth-round selection of the New York Giants. Both of those players were selected last spring and enjoyed similar pre-draft rises to one that Penning could enjoy in the coming weeks. Like Penning, Brown’s stock leading up last year’s draft had a jetpack glued to it, as his game film and dominant performance at the Senior Bowl last winter solidified his status as one of the top tackle prospects within a historically deep positional group. A three-year starter for Northern Iowa, Penning’s track to stardom has become eerily similar to that of Brown, but he’s his own individual beast when it comes to nailing down a prediction to when his name comes off the board in just a few months April. One thing is for sure, it won’t take long. Looking to become his program’s highest-drafted player since center Brad Meester was taken No. 60 overall (second round) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000, flipping on Penning’s film immediately tells you all you need to know about what he brings to the table as a potential blindside protectant for an NFL franchise. A brick wall to attempt to get by, Penning’s heavy hands and ability to stifle edge defenders before they get up to speed is a major reason why Farley opted to keep Penning at left tackle last fall, even with the future day-two selection in Brown inhabiting the opposite side. With dominant performances all year long, Penning, if he’s able to continue to get stronger while receiving the ideal amount of snaps at the next level, could see similar success—or more—in comparison to Brown, who, despite his lack of success in the playoffs, proved to be a mainstay on the right side of the Buffalo line. In Mobile, it’s a trench paradise. From the prowess of Brown to the physicality of one-on-one action between him and Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders and Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, if you enjoy the crashing of pads of the big boys up front, the competition won’t be much better anywhere else in the pre-draft cycle than this week. One of the most humble, relatable prospects in the class, Penning’s rise to stardom has been refreshingly organic compared to the headlining Power 5 talent that often saturates the draft circuit. A homegrown talent whose game has drawn a national spotlight, it’s become awfully hard to ignore the play of the Northern Iowa product at the early stages of this week's session.
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