The Tennessee Titans knew they needed to make a major change at running back. Changes were already in full swing with a new coaching staff and new offense, anyways, so why not continue the trend at one of the most important offensive positions?
A move only seemed natural, too, as disgruntled star running back Chris Johnson was arguably overpaid and simply wasn’t producing like a supposedly elite running back. That led to an eventual divorce. The Titans cut Johnson earlier this offseason, setting in motion a new plan of attack at running back.
Shonn Greene was left as the team’s top running back, but new head coach Ken Whisenhunt made sure right away in free agency that he wouldn’t be all alone in the backfield. Whiz made a move early to land former Kansas City Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster to help open up the offense. It was assumed that McCluster would take on the role of Danny Woodhead in Whiz’s offense, as he deployed Woodhead as a change-of-pace back and receiver out of the backfield while with the San Diego Chargers last year as offensive coordinator.
With a lead back and change of pace back in place, all that was really left was to find a way to land a young running back that could eventually be a feature back for the Titans. The 2014 NFL Draft offered such an opportunity and Tennessee jumped all over Washington running back Bishop Sankey.
Considering Sankey was made a second-round pick by the Titans, it’s clear they thought highly of him. But just what can fantasy owners expect out of him for the 2014 fantasy football season? Let’s break it down from all aspects as we try to hone in on Sankey’s fantasy value for 2014 and beyond:
Talent and Skill-set
Sankey isn’t the burner Chris Johnson was in Tennessee, but compared to the plodding Greene he has lightning speed. By general NFL standards, he has very good speed and exceptional athleticism, along with the ability to switch gears and evade tacklers in the open field.
Physically, Sankey has the build and tools of a potential feature back. He was extremely productive in college and has experience carrying the full load. He also has the versatility to be a change-of-pace back if that’s all the Titans want to ask of him as a rookie, as he also has the hands to be a very effective receiver out of the backfield.
Sankey still needs work in pass protection, but has experience in a pro style offense and has the tools necessary to turn into a feature back if the Titans desire him to.
Role and Supporting Cast
Just how much value Sankey has as a rookie is going to hinge largely on the health of Shonn Greene. Greene is currently nursing a knee injury, but is probably already in danger of losing serious playing time to the much more explosive Sankey. Add in Greene’s age and plodding running style, and Sankey is easily the much more attractive option.
McCluster is figuring to be used in the Danny Woodhead role, meaning he will largely be the main running back used on third downs and in passing situations. Sankey has the versatility and athleticism to cut into that role, though, and also has the physicality to do the same to Greene’s early down and short-yardage work.
We also have to factor in Sankey’s quarterback play. It’s likely going to be Jake Locker, who has struggled mightily with consistency and health. Regardless of how he does, his inability to take off as a true pocket-passer should have the Titans running the ball frequently, as well as dumping off short passes to their running backs.
Ultimately, Sankey is primed to have a pretty big role as a rookie. Missing early time due to his school graduation could hamper his development a bit, but overall Sankey looks ready to come in and play a key role right away. An aging, gimpy Greene isn’t going to keep that from happening. Sankey won’t see anywhere near 300 carries or 60 receptions, but he should eventually be the lead man in a three-back approach. Greene will be used mostly on short yardage and goal-line opportunities, while McCluster will dominate on passing downs.
That still leaves an early down role for Sankey, which should translate into somewhere near 200 total touches, if not much more.
Sankey immediately has RB2 upside. Without even worrying about Greene’s health or how much McCluster might cut into Sankey’s third down duties, Sankey looks to have a big enough role to warrant at the very least a mid-round pick in fantasy drafts.
But where do you draft him?
Sankey is currently going off boards in about the middle of Round 4 based off of fantasy football mock drafts. Considering this is just barely behind the likes of Ray Rice and Ben Tate and barely above guys like Frank Gore and Shane Vereen, it might be a little high.
However, as the season draws closer, we’re going to quickly see Sankey taking on a bigger role than we imagined. The reality is Shonn Greene can’t really be relied upon and he’s an average talent and as versatile as Dexter McCluster is, he’s not big or strong enough to handle too much early down or short yardage work. He’s going to be used as a rusher, too, but probably only to the tune of 100-120 carries, at most.
That likely means Sankey is going to eventually work his way to the top of the depth chart, and it might happen before week one hits us. He’s going to hold the most pure value in Tennessee, and if he can show the coaching staff he can handle pass protection, he should slowly work toward more of a true feature back role. If that happens, he’ll really only have McCluster to work with as far as competition goes. Greene just isn’t as much of a threat due to inferior talent and a lack of versatility.
If that ends up being the case, Sankey is going to carry high upside RB2 value and due to his quality talent, he might even push for RB1 numbers.
All things considered, Round 4 is probably the appropriate spot to find Sankey once your draft rolls around. It’s a tad high at the moment considering he’s going to be away from practice for a while and we still don’t know his clear role, but the upside is too good to ignore. Consider him a Giovani Bernard type in terms of talent and upside. He’s not quite as explosive as Gio, but he’s just as versatile and should have a very similar role, if not better, in his first season.
This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.