Sunday, 11 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 20 Bishop Sankey

Tonight, the second half of the top 40 countdown begins with the second Washington Husky to make the list, Junior Running Back Bishop Sankey, one of the great breakout players of 2012 who is set for big things in 2013. Before we get to Sankey, here's a recap of the first half of the list:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon

(photo cred:  Marcio Jose Sanchez - Associated Press)
Heading into 2012, the general opinion that most fans had about Washington was that the Huskies would move the ball effectively and score points but the offense would have to be mostly one dimensional. The Huskies had Keith Price returning for his junior year and coming off a record breaking sophomore season supplemented by the most talented tight end in the country in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and WR Kasen Williams who was coming off one of the best freshman receiving seasons in Husky history. The consensus was that Price and friends would be able to pick up yards through the air at will but the team would struggle to run the ball. After all, the Husky had just lost senior tailback Chris Polk who had put together three consecutive seasons of 1200+ yards (including back to back 1400+ seasons) and had largely been defined as the heart and soul of the 2010 and 2011 UW teams. That combined with a shaky offensive line that was banged up heading into the season and never got healthy made it look like the Huskies ground game was doomed.

But then the games were played and low and behold, the opposite turned out to be true as the production in the passing game plummeted and Sankey stepped into the starter's role and went off for 1439 yards (fourth best in the Pac-12) and 16 touchdowns (third best).

When I brought up Storm Woods from Oregon State on the countdown I explained that he was on the list because he had no holes in his game and that made him a top 40 player despite not having any one attribute that really stood out about him. Sankey also has no glaring holes in his game but he is a top 20 player because he does possess some dynamic talents. Sankey is a very strong runner who is very adept at keeping his balance and falling forward. He isn't as fast as someone like De'Anthony Thomas and he doesn't break tackles at as high a rate as Ka'Deem Carey but he is still better than most at those traits.

He also possess amazing vision, finding cut back lanes and even using his eyes and body language to set up defenders to eventually make them miss. he doesn't just run blindly to where the play call says the hole should be but instead takes the cut back lane and challenges the defenses ability to contain the corner and the backside on every play. I encourage you to peruse this film of Sankey against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl to see what makes him so special:

You can see how effective he is on every single carry. he usually made the first man miss and the rare time he did get brought down by the first defender, he always fell forward. Early in the clip though, at the 0:27 mark to be precise you can see Sankey showing off his one huge problem. For whatever reason, fumbles are a very poorly tracked stat in college football so I wasn't able to track down an official number on Sankey's fumbles but I can definitely say he had too many of them. The Huskies had 24 fumbles last year and some of them were from Price failing to feel backside pressure and getting the ball swatted and others were from other ball carriers certainly but Sankey had 286 of UW's 466 rushing attempts last season, good for 61% of UW's runs. suffice to say a decent portion of those fumbles came from Sankey.

This particular fumble against Boise is especially troubling because he was holding the ball so loosely. It's not like the defender got a great big punch or swing on the ball or laid a perfect hit and put his helmet square on the pigskin. The defender just reached out his left arm, Sankey ran into it, and out popped the ball. Sankey just doesn't hold onto the ball very strongly and it costs his team from time to time. he also isn't great in pass protection and blitz pick up which you can see in the video above but it seems as though nine out of 10 college running backs struggle with that so I'm not prepared to criticize him too harshly for that.

The bottom line on Sankey is that he is a dynamic, game changing type player. The rest of the Huskies team combined for only three rushing touchdowns behind Sankey and UW"s second leading rusher was a wide receiver by the name of Kendyl Taylor with just 209 yards, almost seven times less than Sankey. Bishop Sankey, in addition to being a star on the Pac-12 all-name team accounted for 36.5% of Washington's total offense and 77.7% of it's rushing yards, two of the best marks in the nation. Some are tempted to say after he matched Polk's production that he is juts a "system back" and that any tailback could be plugged into UW's offense and be productive. In light of UW's struggles on the offensive line (which Steve Sarkisian has frequently used as a crutch and excuse to explain UW's shortcomings but it is true) and the amount of yards Sankey piled up after contact, I refuse to subscribe to that theory. Bishop Sankey would be far from my first pick of top play makers in the Pac-12 but is someone you can build an entire offense around and there are very few players like that. Sankey is an incredible dangerous weapon and a player to watch for closely on Saturdays next season and for many years beyond on Sundays.

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