The running back position remains the most coveted among fantasy football owners due to the scarcity of top-level talent available. This fact makes rookie ball-carriers incredibly intriguing each and every year. In 2014, Tennessee Titans running back Bishop Sankey may be the most perplexing of all.
Recent success of rookie running backs—namely Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard in 2013—appear to have helped send Sankey surging up fantasy draft boards. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, the rookie's current average draft position (ADP) is 5.01.
While his fifth-round ADP ins't overwhelmingly high, the running back should still come with this warning: He may not produce at a high level until later in the 2014 season.
So, why's that? Well, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com tweeted one big reason during the team's third preseason game:
The Titans aren't in any kind of dire need to start Sankey once the regular season rolls around. Shonn Greene is a bruising between-the-tackles runner who proved he can shoulder a heavy workload after rushing for over 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons with the New York Jets.
Tennessee also replaced former speed back Chris Johnson with the versatile Dexter McCluster during the offseason. This shifty ball-carrier has great hands and plenty of value as both a receiver and a change-of-pace back.
Rest assured, head coach Ken Whisenhunt would be quite content entering the regular season with a mix of these two veterans. Rotoworld's Adam Levitan supports this notion with a preseason fact:
Why hasn't Sankey accumulated any first-team reps? Well, some would say it's his fumbling issues.
Over his first two preseason games, Sankey fumbled in each contest. A raw prospect coming out of college, the rookie is possibly focusing on other fundamentals while allowing his ball security to fall by the wayside. At least that's what Whisenhunt thinks, according to an interview with Terry McCormick of 247Sports:
He needs to get as many reps as he can from the standpoint of what he has to do. Protections, and then obviously with putting the ball on the ground, those are things (he needs to work on). He's not a fumbler, he was not that in college. It's technique things, it's footwork things where he hasn't gotten a lot of reps at those, and that can mess with you when you're trying to think about your footwork and not focusing on some of your other things.
Sankey is getting reps; however, they're with the second-team offense.
Currently, the rookie is still sitting third on the team's official depth chart, behind both Greene and McCluster. Don't expect him to work his way up the ranks anytime soon—he'll need some reps with the first team before that happens.
Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus tweeted his thoughts on Sankey's potential early season production:
Luckily for Sankey's fantasy owners, he did show improvement during the team's third preseason contest against the Atlanta Falcons. Not only did he avoid fumbling, he also carried a team-high 16 times—although he averaged just 2.8 yards per rush.
The next step in Sankey's progression will be how the team utilizes him in its final preseason contest against the Minnesota Vikings. The Titans' starters still have some work to do on the offensive side of the ball, and they should be expected to see some reps—at least on a limited basis.
If the rookie gets a few first-team carries, we'll know firsthand that he's progressing nicely within the team. However, he still has quite a way to go before he'll truly become a valuable asset for fantasy owners.
When drafting Sankey this year, don't expect immediate production. Patience is a virtue in this scenario.