Bishop Sankey: A Titanic Opportunity in Tennessee

Most film scouts have dismissed Bishop Sankey, but the numbers say that's a mistake.

If there's one prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft whose career I'm most eager to watch unfold, it's Washington Huskies running back Bishop Sankey.

Sankey has managed to divide the NFL Draft metrics and film scouting communities like few other prospects in the incoming rookie class. The film gurus would have us know Sankey is a tentative runner, who's not especially physical, and too often goes down on first contact. But the show he put on at the NFL Draft Combine left the stat geeks drooling.

Is Sankey the next J.J Arrington or the next Ray Rice? We're about to find out for certain, but this being a site called numberFire, you can probably guess which side of the metrics vs. film divide I'm going to plant my flag.

Sankey's Agility Score of 10.75 seconds (combined short shuttle and three-cone drill) was the best of any running back at the 2014 combine, proving he possesses the short area quickness to make tacklers miss at the next level. In fact, 10.75 was the eighth-best running back agility score at the combine in the last 14 years.

Here's how Sankey stacks up physically against some other notable backs who posted sub-11 agility scores at recent combines.

YearPlayerWeightBench Reps40 yardVertical JumpBroadjumpAgility
2014Bishop Sankey209264.4935 1/210'0510.75
2013Christine Michael220274.434310'0510.71
2013Zac Stacy216274.533310'0210.87
2008Ray Rice199234.4231 1/209'1110.85
2007Ahmad Bradshaw198N/A4.553409'0410.79

In fairness, I totally cherry picked the most favorable comps to put in that table. The list of backs who posted sub-11 agility scores also includes career nonentities such as Graig Cooper, Chris Rainey, and the aforementioned Arrington. Still, it's plenty encouraging Sankey can be mentioned in the same breath athletically as guys like Rice and Stacy (who I bet couldn't do this), especially when you consider his body of work at UW.

Sankey proved a capable workhorse last season at Washington, averaging just north of 25 carries per game, as the focal point of Steve Sarkasian's offense. Even though defenses knew Sankey was coming (the UW passing game scared no one), he still finished fourth in Division I with 1,870 total rushing yards. His 5.7 YPA average placed him second out of the six backs who handled at least 300 carries last season, and Sankey found the end zone on the ground 20 times - sixth best in the country.

Backs who possess great agility tend to do well when given the ball in space, and Sankey is no exception. He put his quickness and vision to use as a receiver out of the backfield at Washington, racking up 61 receptions and 553 receiving yards over the last two seasons. You've got to love that for fantasy football purposes, where the running back by committee era greatly rewards backs who are relied on in the passing game.

Impact on Titans

Sankey landing in Tennessee at pick 54 is a perfect marriage of talent and opportunity. After letting Chris Johnson walk earlier in the offseason, the Titans were the most running back needy team in the draft.

Behind a retooled offensive line, Tennessee ran the ball well last season, ranking sixth in team Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP), adjusted for strength of schedule. The line should continue to improve this season now that last year's 10th overall pick, guard Chance Warmack, has a year under his belt, and they just added tackle Taylor Lewan with the 11th pick in this year's draft.

The only back on the Titans roster standing in Sankey's way is Shonn Greene, who actually wasn't awful last season. Greene ranked 20th in Rushing NEP out of 55 backs who had at least 70 carries. While Greene will still be mixed in some, Sankey is in a good situation to see the 20 total touches per game CJ2K averaged last season, with the possibility for more in the passing game. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt takes over play calling duties for the Titans, fresh off a season as offensive coordinator in San Diego that saw Danny Woodhead catch 76 passes and finish with the second-best Reception NEP at running back.

Perhaps most encouragingly, we have a tool here at numberFire called READ that accounts for a player's combine numbers, dimensions, and team in their rookie year, and spits out players in similar situations. Sankey's top READ comparables - Knowshon Moreno and Matt Forte, both of whom finished top 10 in Rushing NEP and top four in Reception NEP last season. The film scouts may not want to hear it, but the numbers continue to favor Bishop Sankey, and in Tennessee, he'll get every opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.