It's time to lay off of Bishop Sankey. Much of the NFL media -- especially the fantasy football media -- has gone to great lengths to warn fans of Sankey's demise. Analysts check the stat sheet and see a 3.7 yards per carry average and immediately jump ship without figuring out why.
Let me set the scene for you.
Sankey's 152 carries last season were marred by brutal offensive line play and a coaching staff that seemed like they didn't have a clue when it came to the run game. Ken Whisenhunt infamously cited Sankey's footwork as the reason for not giving the 2014 second round pick more carries early. The staff seemed completely fine with trotting out Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington time after time.
After a 1-4 start and a season ending injury to Michael Roos, Whisenhunt decided to turn Sankey loose. The offensive line consisted of a rookie left tackle making his first starts in Taylor Lewan, a regressing Andy Levitre, an inconsistent Brian Schwenke, a budding star in Chance Warmack and one of the worst tackles in football (according to PFF) in Michael Oher -- and it still managed to get worse.
By November the Titans were starting Jamon Meredith and Will Svitek at each tackle position, freshly signed off of the street. Chris Spencer and Eric Olsen were getting time at center after Brian Schwenke went down.
Tennessee was also starting a rookie sixth round pick at quarterback with Kendall Wright, Kris Durham and Derek Hagan as his main receivers. As you're starting to see, the situation wasn't ideal for Bishop Sankey.
Admittedly, I was down on Sankey after the season and through the draft process. He has some shortcomings as a runner and likely will never be a big-time dominant rusher, but he has the tools to be a very productive player. Coming out of Washington I felt like Sankey was the second coming of Ray Rice. Sankey was a guy that wasn't overly physical, but he showed the vision, balance and agility necessary to contribute in the NFL. His agility scores were actually among the best at the 2014 combine.
Looking back at the 2014 tape, I saw a guy that made a lot out of nothing. Sankey didn't light up the stat sheet because the running lanes simply weren't there. Sankey showed me a lot of patience and vision, something that routinely gets underrated in running backs. Check out the following snaps that I found from last season.
This was probably Sankey's best carry from the entire season. The hole opens quickly and Sankey wastes no time finding it. Notice the quick plant and go he puts on the safety to grab another ten yards.
Here is a good example of Sankey's footwork and vision. Watch him quickly diagnose the alley and shuffle to it. He notices the cutback lane being filled with the safety coming downhill, so he just takes what he can get here.
This run shows off Sankey's agility and open field ability. Sankey is able to jump cut inside of the defensive end holding the edge. He then pops out wide, making the corner whiff with an impressive spin move.
On this rep, the cutback lane opens and closes quickly, but Sankey is able to make something out of it. I was really impressed with the vision and agility that he showed here.
Here is one more example of Sankey's agility and change of direction. He shows off a decent burst to get outside, picking up an additional eight or nine yards.
As I stated before, Sankey likely isn't destined to become a star, but with a competent offensive line in front of him there is no reason why he can't produce. I would like to see Whisenhunt get him in space more and play to his strength. Sankey ranked in the top ten in PFF elusive rankings, which isn't surprising after re-watching all of his carries.
The interesting thing about Sankey is his balance. He won't run through anyone, but if a defender doesn't wrap up, Sankey has a decent ability to break the tackle. He shows virtually zero power, but his low center of gravity makes him tougher to bring down. Bulking up to 215 should help this even more.
It will be fascinating to see how Whisenhunt manages the carries this season with David Cobb, Dexter McCluster and Antonio Andrews also in the fold. I'm guessing Sankey gets the bulk, along with lots of receptions out of the backfield. A deeper, improved offensive line will make a big difference too. Added weapons and consistency at the quarterback position from Marcus Mariota could prove to be Sankey's biggest asset going into 2015.