As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.49
Vertical Jump: 35 1/2”
Broad Jump: 10′ 6″
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.00
Background (College Stats)
Rated the 17th-best running back in the country by Scout.com after finishing his high-school career at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane (Wash.), Sankey saw just 28 carries as a freshman as Chris Polk wrapped up his brilliant career with the Huskies and was expected to split time in 2012 with Jesse Callier before Callier succumbed to a knee injury in the season opener that year. Suffice it to say that Sankey never gave the Huskies’ coaching staff a reason to consider a timeshare thereafter as he became the centerpiece of the offense and finished his sophomore season with 1,439 rushing yards (the third-highest total in school history at the time) and 16 touchdowns. Perhaps his most impressive achievement in that campaign came when he earned MVP honors in the MAACO Bowl despite the fact his team lost 28-26 to Boise State. (It marked the first time in the bowl game’s 21-year history that a player from the losing team was named MVP.) In that contest, Sankey rushed for a bowl-record 205 yards and added 74 more as a receiver. As good as Sankey was near the end of 2012, he was even better in his final college season, running for over 200 yards on three occasions in the Huskies’ up-tempo attack. He set the school’s single-season record holder in rushing yards (1,870 – the third-highest total in the country in 2013 and 175 more than Washington legend Corey Dillon ran for in 1996) and posted 37 career scores on the ground, three more than former Husky standout Napoleon Kaufman (1991-94).
NFL Player Comp(s): Doug Martin
- Possesses perhaps the best vision of any runner in this class; patient runner who sets up his blocks well and routinely makes the first defender miss.
- An imposing combination of quick feet and underrated power; grinds out more yards after contact than most backs his size.
- Impressive inside runner; almost always seems to make the right choice in regards to when he needs to power through the hole or when enough time to juke a defender.
- Incredible lateral agility and one of the rare backs that can make a two-gap jump cut (like LeSean McCoy) while maintaining his balance and still beat the defender to the edge.
- Reliable blocker and pass-catcher out of the backfield (67 career receptions), likely has the ability to be flex out as a receiver, although he was not asked to do much more than catch dump-offs and screens in college.
- Named team captain in 2013 and has solid reputation as a “gym rat”; did not miss a game in his college career.
- Play speed appears to be a bit slower than timed (track) speed; defenders caught him a number of times after he advanced past the second level of the defense.
- Ball security was an issue throughout his career despite big hands (fumbled nine times on 718 career touches), although he improved in this area in 2013 (three fumbles on 355 touches).
- Tends to rely too heavily on cutting defenders as a pass blocker; needs to be able to stay on his feet and anchor from time to time and could stand to be more aware in picking up his blitz assignments.
- Saw 653 touches over his final two seasons, proving he could be a true feature back while also running up his odometer.
- Is more than capable of converting short-yardage/goal-line opportunities, but is unlikely to be a true “hammer” in those situations.
Sometimes, a running back comes along that almost seems to paint a masterpiece when he runs. Sankey has an uncanny knack of knowing exactly when to make his first cut and the rare ability to make potential tacklers come up empty in small areas with his ability to pick and slide between tackles. Whether he makes a decision to lower his pads or juke the defender, his call in those split-second situations is rarely ever wrong and has probably contributed to his durability since he usually avoids the big hit. Sankey rightfully draws comparisons to the Cincinnati Bengals’ Giovani Bernard, but it should be noted the former is more powerful and runs with more conviction between the tackles while the latter is more electric and a bigger-play back. There have been reports/accounts of respected draft experts suggesting that Sankey goes down on first contact a lot, so while it may have true some of the time in his career, I watched eight of his 2013 games and saw a powerful runner who often powered through the initial tackle. The team that drafts Sankey may be wise to keep his touches down in his rookie year (at least early on, in order for him to preserve him for later in the season and into the future), but there’s little doubt he is a feature-back talent so long as he continues to shore up the few weaknesses in his game. There is no doubt in my mind that if Sankey finds the right team, he has the capacity to be every bit as good of a pro, if not better, than Martin or Bernard.