We've seen countless times that even if a prospect comes from a smaller college program – if the kid can flat out play, it doesn't matter.
Trevor Penning looks like he can flat out play.
The 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive lineman enjoys playing with a "nasty edge," and displayed it while dominating at Northern Iowa. Penning's notoriety skyrocketed his senior season as the only offensive lineman named as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award with a FCS All-American selection. Additionally, he had a 99.9 run blocking grade from PFF.
"I think [physicality] is a huge part of my game," Penning said Thursday. "You want to make the defender across from you feel it. You want him, at the end of the day, to be exhausted and he wants to go home, get on a flight and get the hell out of there."
Penning, projected to be a first-round pick, will become the second Northern Iowa offensive lineman taken in the past decade. The last one was his former teammate Spencer Brown, who was selected by the Buffalo Bills on Day 2 of the 2021 Draft. His former teammate in the trenches has already prepared Penning for what to expect at the next level.
"Get ready to work," was the advice Penning said he received from Brown. "From now until the end of your rookie year, you got a lot of hours going in. You've got to be willing to put in that work."
The Reese's Senior Bowl was more icing on the cake for Penning's draft stock. The FCS product used the opportunity to show that he could dominate bigger competition than he faced in college.
"I want to show that I can translate my game from the FCS level to the NFL," said Penning. "The Senior Bowl was a great upgrade from what I was playing. Not as much as some of you guys think, [from a] competition level I think there's some really good players in the FCS. But going to that NFL level, the next step, I've just got to be ready for it and get ready to work."
Wednesday afternoon, Raiders Head Coach Josh McDaniels emphasized that while competition level does play a role in evaluating FCS prospects like Penning, the film usually speaks for itself when determining the potential of a player – no matter what school they attended.
"[I] think the evaluation of the player is rather large. There's a lot of things to consider," said McDaniels. "Honestly, there's certain players that may have a level of experience against competition that's significant. But every one of these guys that's coming out in the draft that you add to your football team [is] going to need to grow and improve and learn how to play at our level regardless of where they played college football.
"So, we're just going to try to sink our teeth into each guy, each opportunity to learn about him and digest that information as best as we can and make the best decisions we can possible."
Penning will be able to use the Combine as another opportunity to set himself apart in this draft class. The UNI lineman said that he's met with every team including the Las Vegas Raiders, who he has been connected to through a few mock drafts.
His ultimate goal while finishing up the Combine is his desire to continue to set an example for all the FCS prospects coming out in this year's draft.
"Doesn't matter where you play – FBS, FCS, Division III – if you're good, you're good. And being able to be here and show that is super awesome."