Bishop Sankey Is Clearly the Best Back for the Tennessee Titans

This weekend could be the first where Bishop Sankey finally lives up to his preseason average draft cost.

Bishop Sankey entered the 2014 season with a fair amount of hype surrounding him. He was the first running back selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, albeit as the 22nd pick of the second round. It was immediately assumed that, because he was taken first among backs, he would see the lion’s share of the backfield responsibilities in a running back group made up of career plodder Shonn Greene, goal-line specialist Jackie Battle, wide receiver/running back hybrid Dexter McCluster and return specialist/scatback Leon Washington.

If fantasy owners participated in their very first drafts after Week 1 of the preseason, Sankey was likely flying off the board in the middle rounds after a 16-touch, 75-yard, 1-touchdown effort against Green Bay. It appeared to be clear at that moment that Sankey was the lead dog, despite seeing most of his work with the offensive second unit against the Packers’ second-team defense. By the time the third preseason game rolled around, Sankey was still going in single-digit rounds, still assumed that because his backfield mates lacked “every-down talent” - he was a shoo-in to win the job outright.

Reports began to surface late in the preseason that Tennessee Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was unhappy with Sankey’s ball security and footwork. Fantasy pundits saw this as a minor roadblock, as Sankey came with favorable measurables among running backs at the 2014 combine. He was clearly talented enough in comparison to his backfield mates, but was not promised any sort of predictable workload entering the season. His ADP settled in the middle of the ninth round, as skeptical drafters began to pass on him.

The Here and Now

The Titans began the 2014 season by surprising the Kansas City Chiefs 26-10 at Arrowhead. Sankey was clearly the third option, as Shonn Greene dominated the rushing work, handling the ball 15 times compared to 17 carries among McCluster, Sankey and Washington. Despite an impressive 4.7 yards per carry, Greene’s work barely aided his team in winning. He posted a Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) total of 0.57, which means he added less than one point to his team’s final score with each carry. He carried a Success Rate of 40.00%, meaning only six of his carries were deemed “positive plays”. In comparison to Sankey, who posted a -0.52 Rushing NEP and 50.00% Success Rate on six carries, Greene was only slightly more effective.

This continued into Week 2, when Tennessee was dominated by the Dallas Cowboys and Greene again posted a positive NEP score on only five carries. The Titans running backs only received nine carries, with Sankey again posting a negative Rushing NEP score with no successful carries. At this point, it was starting to look like the coaching staff wasn't prepared to allow Sankey to live up to his inflated ADP.

Sankey was finally able to see the most work out of the backfield in a 33-7 Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He received 10 carries in garbage time and posted a season high Rushing NEP of 2.81. He posted a 60.00% Success Rate and surpassed Greene’s season Rushing NEP total. Greene did get the lone touchdown for Tennessee in the game, but it was only one of three successful carries for him in the game. The writing was becoming clearer on the wall.

Sankey again out-touched Greene in Week 4’s 41-17 dismantling by the Indianapolis Colts, again posting a positive Rushing NEP score – 2.43 – and scoring his first career touchdown. Greene only received three carries despite starting and posted a negative Rushing NEP in the game, with only one carry being deemed successful.

Get Your Hands on Sankey

According to our metrics, Sankey has not only been the most effective rusher on the Titans’ roster, but is among the most effective in the entire NFL. His 3.85 Rushing NEP ranks 16th out of 121 backs who have received at least one carry, ahead of fantasy stalwarts Le’Veon Bell, Alfred Morris and Giovani Bernard. It's a limited sample size, as Sankey has only carried the ball 24 times, tied for fourth-lowest among the top-16 performers, but his efficiency in comparison to the top names in the fantasy game can't be argued.

Coach Whisenhunt was quoted as saying Sankey would not only receive more work in Week 5’s matchup with Cleveland, but that work would come earlier in the game. With upcoming matchups against teams in the bottom third in Defensive NEP, Sankey has the opportunity to seize hold of the top job in Tennessee. Those who drafted and held onto Sankey through the injury riddled first quarter of the fantasy season are going to be rewarded for their patience with a healthy running back who is presumably the lead back for a solid running team.