Fantasy Football: Do not cut bait on the Titans’ Bishop Sankey

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Rookie running backs have experienced a slow fantasy start in 2014; take the word of an enthusiastic Bishop Sankey owner.  Don’t make the mistake of brushing off the rooks who have yet to break out.  Do not cut bait on Bishop Sankey, for starters.

Yesterday, I reported on 2014’s breakout rookie WRs, discussing both my takes on each in my May draft preview and their outlooks after three weeks of 2014.  Now, let’s do the same for the ever-fickle RB position.

(Note: The goal of this article and yesterday’s is not to provide a full rookie report, detailing the outlooks of all notable rookies.  It’s far too early for that.  Rather, these two pieces are designed to examine the rookies that have made a noticeable impact through three weeks, and to see if we can draw any real conclusions at this point.  I assure you, I still love Cody Latimer and Storm Johnson, and part of me will always have strange, confusing feelings for Garrett Gilbert.)

1. Bishop Sankey, Tennessee – Great vision to find the right spot and a smooth, choppy bounce into it; squares upfield and explodes like a pro. Hard to draw a bead on in the open field. A natural in the passing game. It’s easy to see LeSean McCoy here.

2. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco – Purposeful; churns for yardage with good lean. Surprisingly quick feet for his build, but average speed upfield. Soft, underutilized hands. Recognizes pickups, but maladroit as a blocker.

3. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland – Explosive; a fluid cutter on an NFL level. Patient, but hesitant and can barrel out of control. Runs physically. Showed great at Georgia as a freshman. Past legal issues are troubling, despite glowing references.

4. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati – Runs with purpose and real NFL power; cannot be arm-tackled. Runs smart and looks for the right lane, but struggles to hit the edge or cut quickly. Smart and capable in the passing game. Numerous off-field incidents.

9. Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota – Former triple-option QB and RB with astounding athleticism and good acceleration. Well-built and powerful for his compact size. No experience in even a semi-traditional attack or in a passing game, but runs with vision and sharp cuts.

14. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta – A tough runner who belies his frame, but certainly no power back. Average elusiveness and explosiveness to through a hole; needs good blocking. No real second gear. Solid receiver, but often overmatched in pass pro.

15. Terrance West, Cleveland – A productive bellcow vs. low competition. Churns through contact and never gives up on a run. Deliberate; lacks elusiveness and sharpness to find daylight. Solid second gear, but has to build up to it.

 

Fast Forward – Bishop Sankey Remains

Four months later, here are my takes on their dynasty forecasts, rapid-fire:

I’m still all in on Sankey; haven’t even considered jumping ship, not even in redraft.  His Sunday garbage work vs. Cincinnati proved he’s the Titans’ most explosive option, and probably enough so to be their offensive focal point.  What bodes well for Sankey, aside from his awesome measurables, is that he’s an accomplished receiver with three-down workhorse experience.  Ken Whisenhunt keeps grumbling about Sankey’s footwork and attention to detail, but the Titans can only flounder offensively for so long with Jake Locker and Shonn Greene as its driving engines.  I think Sankey’s an upper-tier RB2 in dynasty purposes – and I think we’ll start to see it this year.

Hyde looks as good as advertised thus far, stealing noticeable snaps (and red zone opportunities) from Frank Gore.  The run-heavy 49ers will almost certainly be handing him the reins by this offseason at the very latest, and he’ll be a sought-after RB2 with upside by next year.

Crowell has served as change-of-pace back to West while glass-and-string starter Ben Tate nurses yet another knee injury.  And Crowell has, by many accounts, looked better than West – he’s a great natural runner and harder to bring down.  I don’t foresee Tate being the Browns’ (or anyone’s) long-term workhorse, so the West-Crowell dynamic is likely to carry into next year.  If Crowell takes the job, his upside is monstrous.

I own Hill in pretty much every league, dynasty and redraft both, and his early-season usage and performance are very encouraging.  He’s a great power back who’s capable in the passing game, and Giovani Bernard isn’t much of a rusher, with a middling 3.9 YPC thus far.  The split between the two will likely even out more and more over the course of 2014, and it’s safe to expect Green-Ellis usage from Hill next season, making him an upside RB2 in dynasty.

McKinnon has yet to benefit from the Adrian Peterson fallout, but it’ll happen.  The most athletic back in this rookie class will see his chances; the Vikings lack decent long-term options around which to base their rookie-quarterbacked offense.  Even if McKinnon doesn’t see his chance this season, he’ll enter 2015 as a sought-after gamble worth RB2 consideration.  And he was all but free to acquire this year, so hang on tight.

I didn’t like Freeman as a prospect, but he’s shown himself to be a preseason/garbage playmaker thus far.  Still, he’s made too many mistakes (specifically poor blocking and ball control) to rise above the #4 spot in Atlanta.  That will change this offseason, but he looks like a timeshare back going forward.

Obviously, I didn’t gush over West one bit during draft season.  I just don’t see anything special there; he has a decently effective one-cut style that fits the Cleveland offense, but there’s just not enough athleticism to hold off Crowell completely.  The two are probably complementary to each other going forward, capping their upsides.

My draft preview didn’t rate Lorenzo Taliaferro or Alfred Blue, but both have rapidly rising dynasty profiles.  Taliaferro is the most capable back in the Ravens backfield and showed it Sunday; he’s not a great talent, but a superior one to Bernard Pierce, and the team seems to love the guy.  Blue has emerged as the clear handcuff to Arian Foster, who is increasingly injury-prone and carries a $9M cap hit in 2015 (the team can save $4M of that by releasing him).  And Blue has shown fairly well thus far; the fact that he was chosen by rookie head coach Bill O’Brien suggests he has what the staff wants in a back.

 

The Rookie Signal-Callers – Teddy Bortles

Two first-round QBs got the nod Sunday over some epically crappy veterans.  Obviously, it’s hard to know what to make of them, so let’s start with more of my immutable truths from draft season:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota – Smart and poised; moves fantastically in the pocket and never takes his eyes from his receivers. Solid when throwing everywhere but way downfield. Not a great build or arm, but upside in a rhythm passing offense is huge.

2. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville – A work in progress in terms of driving the football, but looks and acts the part in just about every way. Poised and polished, especially considering his competition level. Athletic in and out of the pocket.

 

Fast Forward – Bridge Over Smooth Waters

I had always fancied Bridgewater in a timing-based West Coast scheme; he’s slightly built and lacks good zip on his throws, but his mental processes and feel for the pocket are outstanding for a rookie prospect (think Andy Luck).  So I’m not sure I see him slinging the ball downfield enough to make statistical waves.  That said, it was encouraging to see him rack up six rushes in his first start; I never considered him a good bet to keep up fantasy-wise with his scramble-happy youngster peers.  Still, until I see him executing downfield packages, I’m keeping my distance and calling him a mid-tier dynasty option going forward.  I also don’t think he’s got the dynamic receiving talent to project a big statistical year anytime soon.

Bortles interests me much more: a massive gunslinger with enough athleticism to extend plays and manufacture stats.  He’s got a great arm, even if it’ll take some time to learn to drive the ball to the right spot.  And don’t lose sight of the fact that he ran for 15 TDs last year at Central Florida.  There’s a lot of Ben Roethlisberger in his game, and he’ll spend his formative years growing alongside three young, semi-promising wideouts who were drafted right alongside him.  I think he’ll be a high-upside QB2 as soon as next year, which makes him a strong dynasty buy.  If he struggles early on this awful Jacksonville team, make an offer to his owner.

 

 

Lead photo: “IMG_6748” by Neon Tommy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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