Why Fantasy Football Owners Shouldn’t Give Up on Bishop Sankey Just Yet

Bishop Sankey burned a lot of fantasy owners last season. That is exactly why we shouldn’t toss him aside just yet.

Bishop Sankey was one of the most disappointing rookies we had the displeasure of watching last season. Heralded as the new workhorse running back in Tennessee in the preseason, Sankey was taken in the fourth round in many fantasy drafts last summer. By season’s end, the high hopes of owners everywhere were dashed.

For what it’s worth, the situation did appear golden before the season began, with Sankey possessing the necessary athletic skill and college production that is normally attributed to successful NFL running backs. Only old, slow Shonn Greene stood in his way.

“Sometimes the best laid plans,” as they say.

Due to some hesitancy by head coach Ken Whisenhunt regarding Sankey’s “footwork,” he saw his weekly carry totals yo-yo up and down all season, ending with 153 total rushes. When he did see the field, however, Sankey was very inefficient according to our metrics.

Here at numberfire we use Net Expected Points (NEP) to place a numerical value on how productive, or unproductive, and player is while on the field. Rushing NEP totals are generally lower than Passing NEP totals due to passing plays being more efficient. A negative Rushing NEP is not always an indicator of bad play in the same way a negative Passing NEP would be.

For a more succinct definition of our numbers, check out our glossary.

The Rushing NEP metrics for Sankey, Greene, and Dexter McCluster (the Titans' top-three rushers) from the 2014 season, respectively, are listed below.

PlayerCarriesRushing NEPRushing NEP/AttemptSuccess RateReceptionsReception NEP
Bishop Sankey153-15.17-0.1036.60%186.66
Shonn Greene93-3.47-0.0439.78%10.80
Dexter McCluster40-7.04-0.1842.50%2611.83

As you can see, old, slow Shonn Greene actually outperformed Sankey in every category (excluding receiving metrics because Greene only caught one pass all season). Sankey had the lowest Success Rate (percentage of carries that led to positive NEP gains) of the three, and his cumulative Rushing NEP of -15.17 ranked 37th among the 43 backs who saw at least 100 carries last season.

By selecting David Cobb in the fifth-round of last month’s draft, Tennessee tipped their hand that they are not fully satisfied with their running game, despite all three backs listed above still remaining on the current roster.

Rumors are now swirling around the Music City that suggest Cobb was drafted to cut into Sankey’s workload immediately. It seems to be human nature for us to be drawn to the new, shiny object, as we discard what we consider to be “old news.” But is it fair to cast Sankey aside before his second pro season even begins?

Let’s see if there’s still light at the end of the tunnel.

Reasons For Optimism

With the help of’s pages for both Sankey and Cobb, we can see that Sankey exceeds Cobb in every single athletic metric. In fact, Sankey’s athleticism score (which summarizes a player’s workout scores, normalized by BMI), places him in the 87th percentile. It’s clear he has the requisite physical skills to excel.

Cobb, on the other hand, falls into the 66th percentile in athleticism score. It’s not a deathblow to Cobb’s prospects, but it’s clear which player is the more gifted athlete.

Our own Jason Schandl examined Cobb’s possible role in Tennessee, and Greene might be the one to have his snaps usurped -- not Sankey.

On the latest episode of Rotoviz Radio, Shawn Siegele pointed to Sankey as a fantasy asset that could outperform expectations in 2015, and end up as an extremely viable “Zero-RB” candidate.

Following this lead, I dug a little deeper into what Sankey did last season.

In 2014, Sankey ranked 12th in yards after contact per attempt among the 42 running backs who received at least 25% of their respective team’s total carries, according to Pro Football Focus. He also ranked 18th in missed tackles on rushes and ninth in their Elusive Rating, suggesting he was a more elusive runner than both Le’Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray.

This is not to say Sankey is “better” than either Bell or Murray, but it should at least give pause to the notion that Sankey is a no-talent runner just waiting to be passed up by an incoming rookie.

Further, Sankey did show promise in the receiving game. Despite playing on the 30th-ranked team in terms of passing (the Titans recorded -0.06 Passing NEP per play when adjusted for schedule strength) Sankey’s Reception NEP per target of 0.28 ranked 16th among the 36 backs who saw at least 20 targets last season, and he hauled in 75% of his 24 targets, which ranked 14th.

Cobb caught just 33 passes in his final two collegiate seasons, so Sankey’s main contention for targets will again be McCluster (whose Reception NEP per target was 0.34 on 35 targets last season).

Will We Be Doing The “Sankey Leg” In 2015?

Predicting any facet of the Titans offense for 2015 at this point is a difficult endeavor.

First, the outcome largely depends on who will be starting at quarterback, a question that we don’t really have a definitive answer for yet. If Marcus Mariota starts as most would assume, one would hope that the coaching staff will attempt to tailor the playbook to fit what the Heisman Trophy winner does best. Conversely, if Zach Mettenberger starts, we should expect a more traditional, pro-style attack.

And while the additions of Dorial Green-Beckham and Hakeem Nicks are no guarantees of an improved offense, it’s difficult to imagine the on-field product getting much worse than last season’s iteration.

As things stand right now, I am not ready to give up on Sankey altogether. His efficiency metrics were terrible last season but I think he still has a shot to become a serviceable fantasy back in the near future. And he is certainly a post-hype candidate this season that could provide massive value depending on his draft cost.

Call me crazy, but if the price is right, I’ll be investing come draft time.