Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
Keith Price. Kasen Williams. Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Those are your big name playmakers in Steve Sarkisian’s Washington offense. None are as important or as reliable as the pulse of the Huskies, Bishop Sankey. Now that Sankey has scampered for 369 yards and three touchdowns on 60 carries in his first two games as a junior, people are starting to take notice. Box scores don’t tell the whole story though. Sankey has evident traits that translate to the NFL game and will make him a sought after running back when he makes the jump to Sundays.
Sankey is certainly a more than adequate athlete as a back, but it’s the finer skills as a runner that make him extremely effective and extremely efficient. The first example comes with Washington’s offense trying to ice away a ten point lead against Illinois in the fourth quarter.
The blocking scheme on this call leaves the back with an important job. The Huskies are blocking man-on-man across the board, meaning no double teams to seal a defender and create a seam or a lead blocker. So as Sankey presses the line of scrimmage, it’s vital that he reads his blocks and makes the proper cut based on the leverage of specific defenders.
Sankey reads the blocks from inside out and picks his cut accordingly. His guard has outside leverage on the nose tackle. His tackle has outside leverage on an end, who is crashing down to the inside. Sankey picks makes these reads quickly and cuts to the outside. His ability to plant his foot and change direction on a dime only serves to make him even more effective behind his blockers.
After Sankey makes his cut, he picks up on the blocks his tight end and receiver are making. Both have outside leverage, so he continues right around the corner and into space. Sankey cracks off 25 yards on this run, because he was able to read his blocks and make the proper cuts to stay behind them. His consistent ability to play off his blocks allows him to maximize yardage on almost every carry. It’s rare to see Bishop Sankey leaves yards on the field.
Along the lines of picking up every yard available, Sankey is also able to make yardage out of situations where the defense has their gaps covered and penetration into the backfield.
Washington runs a pretty cut and dry power on this play against Boise State. The center and left guard are combo blocking nose tackle to open side backer. The left tackle and tight end are combo blocking the end to the closed side backer. The right guard will pull and kick on the edge.
The play gets disrupted on the front side immediately. The Broncos defensive end gets the left tackle on his heels, which requires the attention of the tight end. The front side linebacker comes forward in his run fit and gets into the backfield before the tight end can put a finger on him.
This is where Sankey really earns his stripes. When he sees the linebacker come free, he presses the run laterally to get the defender moving east and west. As soon as he does that, he plants his outside foot and cuts back inside to leave the backer grasping at thin air. Sankey busts off a 16 yard gain and gets the Huskies out of the shadow of their own goal post. His short-area quickness allows him to isolate defenders in space and make them miss. He’s able to use that skill to break off big gains even when the defense has him bottled up in the backfield.
Sankey makes a big impact on the ground, but don’t sleep on his ability as a pass catcher.
While Washington’s receivers press the field vertically, Sankey is going to run a simple circle route out of the backfield and make himself available for Keith Price underneath.
Sankey’s hands are soft and reliable. When he gets the ball thrown his way out of the backfield, he looks like a season receiver hauling it in. On this play, he has all kinds of space to run into. What he does with it is what makes all the difference.
As two linebacker close from his right side, Sankey looks like he’s found a cul-de-sac. He has an instinctive way of making cuts against the grain of pursuit in space, which he puts to good use in this situation. He simply lets the backers overrun the tackle, by stopping on a dime and cutting back against their momentum. He then drops his pads and runs through the tackle of a defensive back in order to fall forward and move the sticks in a 2nd and 18 spot. It all goes back to the original point. Bishop Sankey doesn’t leave many yards on the field.
Sankey’s all-around skillset will make him valuable back at the next level. He’s able to make proper reads with developed vision. He has lateral agility to make cuts to find holes and to elude defenders in those holes. He has the long speed to press the edge and pick up big chunks in space. Sankey can catch the ball out of the backfield and can pass protect. He runs with a low center of gravity and maintains his balance quite well through contact. He also drops his pads and finishes runs with leg drive while falling forward on a consistent basis. Sankey is the feature back for Washington Huskies and may be that type of back in the NFL. The skillset, the build, the intelligence, the production, it’s all there. So when will he get the recognition he deserves?
Video and screenshots of Bishop Sankey vs. Boise State courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com. Bishop Sankey vs. Boise State can be found here: http://draftbreakdown.com/video/bishop-sankey-vs-boise-state-2013/