The Tennessee Titans ended the longest-ever drought for a running back selection in the NFL draft when they tabbed University of Washington product Bishop Sankey with the 54th overall pick. But can Sankey, the first back chosen, really prove to be the best rusher in the 2014 class?
Let's examine Sankey's skill set to determine what kind of NFL player he'll end up being.
Sankey was the fourth-ranked running back in the draft according Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. Miller wrote this in his scouting report:
Sankey has been used heavily at Washington, but he has immediate NFL impact talent. He could stand to improve as a receiver, blocker and when using his vision to make big plays on the edge, but he could easily be the best Year 1 back of this class.
The heavy usage Miller alluded to is Sankey's 644 carries over three years at Washington. He set the single-season rushing record at Washington with 1,870 yards in 2013 and was smart to enter the NFL draft after his junior season in order to avoid another season of wear and tear at the collegiate level.
Sankey ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at February's scouting combine. He marries his speed with excellent vision, following blockers off-tackle to daylight. He has fantastic wiggle and possesses the ability to shake opposing defenders in the open field.
He's not the biggest back (5'9", 209 lbs) and is best used in space as opposed to in-between the tackles. Once he hits the second level, he relishes contact, but that's in stark contrast to his inside rushing ability, where he needs help from his offensive line in order to chew up yardage.
Sankey can also be a weapon out of the backfield, as he hauled in 61 passes and averaged 9.2 yards per reception over his final two seasons at Washington. When you combine his catching ability with his speed, it's easy to see why the Titans made Sankey the first running back selected.
Tennessee should prove to be a fruitful landing spot for Sankey. The Titans spent their first-round selection (11th overall) on Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan. He joins tackle Michael Roos, guards Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre and center Brian Schwenke to form a talented offensive line that should be able to open up holes for Sankey to burst through.
Plus, the Titans already have a bruising back in Shonn Greene to run in-between the tackles, leaving Sankey as the speedy, change-of-pace back. His role will be clear and defined, and he'll be given the opportunity to showcase his talents and shine.
So, we've determined that Sankey has landed in a favorable spot and should play well as a rookie. But again, will he be the best running back in the class?
Miller had Auburn's Tre Mason (St. Louis Rams), West Virginia's Charles Sims (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers) ranked ahead of Sankey, and LSU's Jeremy Hill was the second back off the board, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Out of those players, it appears that Sankey will have the best chance for rookie success. Sims is talented, but he is entering a crowded backfield in Tampa Bay with Doug Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey.
Hyde is arguably the best back in the draft, but he's currently behind the ageless Frank Gore. Hill will have to battle Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis for snaps in the "Queen City." Mason will platoon with Zac Stacy in St. Louis.
Entering the draft, the Titans had the most unsettled running back corps in the NFL. They released Chris Johnson, leaving Greene and Jackie Battle atop the depth chart, and neither guy will conjure up images of Eddie George in the "Music City."
The fact that coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Ruston Webster invested a second-round pick in Sankey, along with the horrible options on the roster, shows that they expect him to contribute immediately.
While he might not have been the highest-rated running back in the draft according to most experts, Sankey could very well be the most productive as a rookie. He looms large as a player to watch in 2014.
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