Dominant UNI Lineman Set to be First-Round NFL Draft Pick
Over the college football season, I wrote previews for each Northern Iowa football matchup. That included one prior to UNI's contest with No. 16 Missouri State, where it was announced that week that one of the Panther's offensive linemen would be the first selection to the Reese's Senior Bowl.
In this game, NFL draftees can showcase their talent prior to the draft in April. The game is scheduled for this Saturday, February 5, at 1:30 PM, and it will be hosted in Mobile, Alabama. It will be televised on the NFL Network.
Penning was selected for the showcase for ample reasons, one being that he's projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft this year.
He'd be the only player from the storied UNI football program to be selected in the first round. The highest a Panther has been drafted was when Brad Meester was picked in the second round with the 60th overall pick in 2001 -- he was chosen by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he played 14 seasons.
The big man from Clear Lake, Iowa is seen as a plug-and-play rookie, who will make an immediate impact on whatever offensive line he joins.
As written on ProFootballNetwork.com, "Penning is a powerful blocker who dominates lighter defenders at the point of attack. He has great upper-body torque and a ton of stored potential energy within his frame. The Northern Iowa OT brings good straight-line burst when moving to the second level, and he’s exceptionally explosive out of his stance. When matching rushers along the edge, Penning is a fairly efficient mover. He flips his hips to match defenders around the edge and walls off the pocket."
One notable name in the NFL Draft space, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN, had Penning going to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 25 in his most recent mock draft (this was prior to their run to the Super Bowl):
Penning towered over defenders at the FCS level, and he was rarely challenged. He makes things look easy. Yes, it’s a big leap to the NFL, but I think he has the traits to be an early starter. If Cincinnati wants to keep 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams on the left side, Penning could easily slot in at right tackle, where free-agent-to-be Riley Reiff played for most of 2021.
Penning's measurables LEAP off the page, too.
The lone offensive lineman named as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (presented to the national offensive player of the year), Penning stands at 6'7, 330 pounds. Plus, according to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, "Penning could run near a five-second 40-yard dash at his size." He also has the Northern Iowa record squat of 625 pounds and power clean 385 pounds.
He'll join another former Panther offensive lineman who was selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, Spencer Brown. Both were recruited to Cedar Falls as tight ends out of high school, put on significant weight over their tenure with UNI, and transitioned to the tackle position. Brown now plays right tackle for the Buffalo Bills.
This is where several other NFL Draft outlets see Penning landing come draft time:
Pro Football Focus -- 29. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco)
Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com) -- 14. Baltimore Ravens
Bucky Brooks (NFL.com) -- 17. Los Angeles Chargers
NBCSports -- 17. Los Angeles Chargers
SportingNews.com -- 31. Tennessee Titans (Mock was pre-Super Bowl)
The 2022 NFL Draft will take place April 28-30 on ESPN.