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 my favorite prospects to study as we move toward the showcase and pre-draft circuit. 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 a man is the ideal body type you’d fantasize if you were asked to “create a player” tasked with anchoring your front five.
Penning, the next small school tackle prospect who will take the showcase circuit by storm, has displayed all the necessary traits to eventually become an every-down starter at the next level. While the Cedar Falls, Iowa institution 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, and edge rusher Elerson Smith, a fourth-round selection of the New York Giants, both of whom were selected last spring. However, as Smith has dealt with a lingering hamstring issue and is yet to get his feet wet on the defensive side of the ball, amassing just two special teams snaps in 10 weeks, Brown has been two-fold with the offensive success for a high-octane Bills offense.
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 next 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, his film against Iowa State and edge rusher Will McDonald, a riser in his own right, offered the clearest glimpse into the pure dominance Penning could provide if he continues to get stronger while receiving the ideal amount of snaps. Included within Bruce Feldman’s annual college football’s “Freaks List” that highlights some of the country’s most athletically-gifted players, Penning’s balance, flexibility, and burst when asked to get out in space has presented one of the draft’s most intriguing overall prospects. A relatively weak tackle class in comparison to the last few years of eligible prospects, Penning’s rise has been well earned. A small-school talent with big-time potential, he’s the next big thing out of the FCS.