The Tennessee Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back selected in the 2014 NFL draft after taking him in the second round with the 54th overall pick. Fantasy owners seem to be holding him in a similar high regard; however, expectations regarding the rookie's potential output this season should be tempered.
There's no questioning Sankey's ability as an NFL-caliber running back. He impressed in 2013 with the Washington Huskies, becoming one of the Pac-12's most prolific rushers after accumulating 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns. His great combination of speed, vision and toughness should help him make a smooth transition to the professional level.
Although, when it comes to the running back's expectations this season, there are more factors involved than just Sankey's potential out of the backfield.
It all starts with a crowded depth chart. Sankey is currently listed third among running backs, sitting behind veterans Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster. While the rookie certainly has a good chance to move up the ranks, he's in line for a timeshare this season.
Greene is a between-the-tackles runner capable of getting those chain-moving tough yards. It's easy to speculate he'll get plenty of work in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. McCluster is a dynamic playmaker with soft hands. His experience in that role should warrant him a fair amount of receptions out of the backfield.
FantasyGuru.com tweeted the current status of the three backs:
For 2nd week in a row, McCluster & Greene played before Sankey, & DM flashed on some plays as runner/receiver, clear he's a larger factor.— FantasyGuru.com (@Fantasy_Guru) August 16, 2014
While Sankey could wind up becoming the team's top option out of the backfield this season, those two veterans will continue to eat into his share of touches due to their varied skill sets.
Although, Sankey's slow start may hinder his ability to climb up the depth chart in the near future. Ball security has been an issue for the rookie ball-carrier since his arrival in Tennessee, and his performance in the team's Week 2 preseason contest against the New Orleans Saints didn't help. He did accumulate 31 yards on six carries, but he lost a fumble in the process.
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean tweeted his take:
Bishop Sankey just fumbled exchange from Mettenberger. This has been an issue throughout camp #Titans— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) August 16, 2014
If fumbles continue to be an issue for Sankey, his expected touches—and his production as a result—may take a severe nosedive in the regular season.
One more slight cause for concern should be Tennessee's quarterback position.
While Jake Locker has shown glimpses of why he was a first-round selection in 2011, he has been unable to remain healthy for a full 16-game season—he's played five, 11 and seven games in his first three years, respectively.
Where will Sankey rank among fantasy running backs in 2014?
With the unproven Charlie Whitehurst and rookie Zach Mettenberger behind Locker on the team's depth chart, the quarterback position will be rather shaky, should the team's starter fall to injury once more. This could make things extremely difficult for any Titans ball-carrier, given the fact teams will surely load the box without any kind of a threat under center.
Currently, Sankey is being selected late in the fourth round of fantasy drafts, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. However, at times he's selected earlier than his average draft position suggests—possibly due to the 2013 rookie success of Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard.
Perhaps the NFL's Michael Fabiano fed into the hype, ranking Sankey as his top fantasy rookie this season:
Given Sankey's situation in Tennessee, he cannot be expected to produce in the same manner as those second-year backs.
Selecting Sankey in the fourth round isn't a bad idea—he should be a better option than most ball-carriers at that point—however, owners must be patient with the rookie, as he may take some time to develop any kind of fantasy value.
Fantasy owners could be rewarded for taking a gamble on Sankey this season; although, the severity of the risk must be understood as well.