Entering the game as the country’s third leading rusher, Bishop Sankey had begun to make a name for himself as a “must-watch” running back for NFL teams. After an impressive 2012, which he finished with over 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns, Sankey has averaged over 5.5 yards per carry and has yet to have a game without a touchdown.
Travelling to Stanford, easily the best team on their schedule, Sankey had the ability to show that he could thrive against an NFL-worthy front seven of Stanford. And aside from the numbers he was able to produce (27 carries, 125 yards, 2 touchdowns), Sankey showed NFL teams that his balance, body adjustment, and decision reads will allow him to thrive in the NFL.
The Stanford defense is one of the best in the country from a talent perspective, boasting as many as seven 2014 NFL Draft prospects, depending on which juniors make themselves eligible. Linebacker Shayne Skov is one of the country’s best inside linebackers, playing tremendously well in space and as a pass rusher in this game. Trent Murphy was impressive on the edge, rushing as a 3-4/4-3 edge rusher, showing body control in space and tackling away from his body well. Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner played well on the defensive line, while linebacker AJ Tarpley and safety Ed Reynolds made an impact in the running game as well.
In a true zone blocking offense (learn more about their offense here), Sankey has ample opportunity to make (or miss) big running opportunities. With an solid 5’10, 205 pound body type, Sankey does a great job of keeping his shoulders square as he adjusts his feet when working upfield, consistently staying in position to embrace and break through contact. Welcoming contact yet regaining his balance initially after first contact, Sankey plays tight to his frame and doesn’t attempt long movements in traffic that could lead to negative yardage.
Reading the initial hole well, Sankey is able to get skinny when he needs to, maximizing openings on inside zone runs and gathering his steps well as he works through the hole initially. While his top speed may be only in the 4.55 range and he lacks great long movement to be a wide area elusive runner, Sankey possess an impressive jump cut in traffic and in the open field to utilize minimal steps to keep linebackers off balance.
Below is the first play (courtesy of ESPN highlights, as I was unable to GIF/screenshot my own play breakdown) that displays Bishop Sankey’s future as a plus-NFL zone blocking runner. As you’ll see below, Stanford collapses the initial read hole for Sankey, as (#43) drives through the middle and make Sankey regain himself. Sankey does just this, adjust his shoulders, and accelerates through the secondary hole on the outside. Then again, once through the hole, Sankey displays his lateral control and quick decision making to attack the edge and gain an extra 25 yards after getting through the initial hole. Not necessarily a “sexy” play, this is exactly what the Washington offense expects of Sankey in the running game, and it’s something he’s done consistently all season. (Not Loading? Link Here)
The next play, Sankey showcases yet again his jump cutting ability in traffic. But more importantly, he utilizes his body positioning as an in-traffic runner and balance to embrace contact and escape through traffic for a touchdown. On this play, Sankey follows his pulling guard around a sealed right edge. Instead of attacking the edge (as many “big play” running backs would have strongly considered given that it’s a one on one match-up with) the deep safety), Sankey instead stays tight to his lead blocker and jump cuts in the tight window of a hole on the inside. With his shoulders square, Sankey takes an initial hit, drives his strength through his legs to maintain his balance, uses his hand to get back up, and finish the touchdown run. Again, not necessarily a “sexy” big play, Sankey is sound mechanically for a zone blocking runner to consistently take advantage of defensive errors. (Not Loading: Link Here)
With most NFL teams have some sort of zone blocking scheme in their play design along with Sankey’s ability to utilize man-blocking concepts if need be in the box, it’s easy to get excited for Sankey’s future as an NFL runner. The lack of open field, big play elusive moves along with just good, not great, long speed likely keeps him from being a first rounder as of now, mostly because of the lack of premium placed on running backs. However, Sankey wins in the same way Ray Rice did in college, and while Sankey may not be as compactly built or as polished as Rice was out of college, Sankey does have similar productivity upside, especially if he can land in a zone blocking scheme.
Still only a junior, Sankey would be a surprise to stay in school, mostly because of how much team’s value minimal college carries in the draft to prevent runners from being “burnt out” early in their careers. That being said, Sankey will have at least the rest of his Pac-12 schedule to continue to put up big numbers.
While I expect Sankey to have multiple 150+ yard games the rest of the year, he may not have a scouting-focused performance like he did against the NFL-loaded Stanford defense, and he’ll always be able to hang his hat on the near victory he almost lead his team to.