Bishop Sankey's Weaknesses May Keep Him from a Bigger Role in Tennessee

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystSeptember 24, 2014

Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson runs against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)
David Kohl/Associated Press

If there's one book that sizes up the Tennessee backfield, it's The Paradox of Choice.

Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt has accumulated running backs that can give defenses different looks. In theory, Dexter McCluster provides the receiving muscle and has the speed to get to the edge. Shonn Greene is the between-the-tackles mauler.

Both Leon Washington (McCluster) and Jackie Battle (Greene) are decaf versions of the two players above.

But the wild card coming into the season was rookie Bishop Sankey, the first back off the board in the 2014 draft. The physical attributes are there, but the more the Titans have given him to read in front of him, the worse he's played.

Tennessee Running Back Snaps, 2014
PlayerSnapsSnap Percentage
Dexter McCluster7035.5%
Shonn Greene5427.4%
Bishop Sankey4321.8%
Leon Washington3015.2%
Jackie Battle2814.2%
Source: Football Outsiders

After two weeks, Whisenhunt appeared to settle on Sankey's role. For now, at least, the Titans seem to be keeping him away from his weaknesses.

Sankey played predominantly out of pistol and shotgun sets in his third game of the season, and after one really poor choice up front, where he appeared to be stumbling, Tennessee generally tried to get him off-tackle and away from reading linebackers in trash.

The effectiveness he showed proves that he does have something to offer as an NFL back. His 10 carries for 61 yards, and a long run of only 18, tell you there was some consistency in Sankey's game.

However, the fact that the Titans seem to have truncated his role makes me skeptical that he'll become the lead back of the committee this season.

John Glennon @glennonsports

Whiz says he likes what he saw for most part from Sankey, but rookie still needs to improve attention to detail for more playing time.

Here's that poor read and stumble:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Yes, Cincinnati could have bounced a linebacker off that trash pile and limited the gain, but that's the kind of hole an NFL running back dreams of getting.

Here's another carry I'd say shows him struggling. This was one of his rare carries in the Dallas game, and the linebacker makes a fairly easy choice for him:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Sankey ran right into his lineman on that play, ending it.

When Whisenhunt says that he needs to work on the details, these are the little factors I see when I watch him play. Sankey was completely unprepared for his lineman to be pushed back, and the path Sankey chose carried him right into the lineman.

This is the kind of play that Sankey showed the ability to be effective at: Off-tackle, Sankey quickly realizes that there's not much inside and cuts it outside:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

I think Tennessee's offensive line held its own in this game. But between Jake Locker and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, the game script quickly swung away from the sort of clock control tactics Whisenhunt engaged in with San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy last season.

When you're down to a 5 percent chance of winning the game by halftime, per Advanced Football Analytics, well, there's not going to be much more running.

Between Greene's superior track record in the trenches and a lack of confidence in Lockerand his potential replacements—right now, I think any potential Sankey fantasy value as more than a flex play is going to get squeezed.

He's being played in such a limited fashion that Tennessee will need to have control of the game script for him to be a worthy play.

Paul Kuharsky @PaulKuharskyNFL

.@gregcosell on @Midday180: Sankey showed lateral quickness, short area burst. Brought some juice to run game. Inside zone plays from pistol

That doesn't mean that Sankey can't continue to improve. I thought Week 3 was the best I've seen him look all season. He's clearly physically talented.

But if Whisenhunt can't trust him to make the right reads between the tackles, how much can he really play?

Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.


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