Since Steve Sarkisian has taken over the head coaching job at the University of Washington, he has been able to recruit his own NFL talent after inheriting players like Jake Locker and Mason Foster. Bishop Sankey, the Huskies’ talented running back was a breakout star in the PAC-12 last year as he became the feature back in their offense, rushing for 1,439 yards and an impressive 16 touchdowns. He was also able to produce 249 yards receiving and coming into his junior year, he should only improve. Sankey was an extremely natural runner but was still playing slightly undersized and with improved technique as a receiver and blocker along with increased physical strength, Sankey could go from just being a great running threat suffering from the ‘Seattle effect’ in national coverage to being a household name and big time running back prospect both for national awards as well as being a high NFL Draft prospect whenever he ultimately decides to declare. At this point, he is a top 100 pick but he has all the tools to get better in a few key areas and add strength to really improve his stock as his natural running skills and feel for the position will be attractive in their own right.
Vitals & Build
Sankey is listed 5’10” 200lbs and possesses great quickness, fluidity and body control. His strength is solid but he definitely has room to continue adding strength and this will be important for Sankey when he moves onto the NFL. His acceleration and speed are good, but more power would enable him to be more balanced as a runner. He appears to have a good amount of potential physically as he can add bulk and looks able to get up to 210-215lbs without losing any of his athleticism.
Sankey is an incredibly natural runner who has great vision, patience, and has a good sense for angles and how to make the most of runs. He gets behind his pads when he is going to try to use power and he can use jump cuts and quicker cuts to make guys miss. Sankey has a great sense of following his blocks and rarely looks hesitant in the backfield with the ability to get skinny to take advantage and fit through small creases in the line without sacrificing much speed. He has the explosive first step to take advantage of an opportunity as he sees it, the speed to make big runs count with the potential to score. It would help Sankey if he can add more power so when he wants to use power, there is more there, but his body angle and pad level enable him to go forward and his balance will allow him to stay up at times and continue running. He can break arm tackles and keep running but they slow him down more than they should.
Sankey has experience running with a lead blocker in a traditional I formation as well as taking handoffs out of the shotgun. He can hit quick plays with one hole and no options if called upon, but he is a bigger threat when he is handed the ball with options. Using more of a zone blocking scheme enables him to usually be choosing between at least two options and sometimes more. While he seems to prefer to get outside when able, Sankey will cut back inside to keep defenses honest. He is effective attacking in between the tackles and his quick cuts in traffic make him able to gain yardage even when the area around him is crowded. Most of the running plays used by the Huskies have him attack between the tackles, but after that, he is going off of his vision and instincts, which are both excellent.
He will get tackled for losses behind the line, but he tends to make up for them as the game rolls along. Sankey can lull opponents to sleep because he tends to make one guy miss per run, pick up some yards and go down. It seems like it is only a matter of time before he eventually gets a handoff and takes it for a huge gain if not all the way. The key with Sankey is that he is consistent and patient and not trying too hard to hit the home run. He lets it come in the natural flow of the game for the most part, so every play seems to look pretty run of the mill until Sankey is in the secondary and running down the field. His speed to go the distance is solid but not overwhelming and he seems to be quicker than fast.
Washington incorporates a lot of pro-style offensive looks and plays that he will run in the NFL, so he could have a relatively seamless transition at the next level with the ability to come in and make an instant impact. And even though he has been productive, Washington does not have an overwhelming line; merely a decent unit that seems to work well together with the exception of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who can be a dominant blocker from the tight end spot, but is inconsistent. Certainly, the Huskies offensive line will make blocks, but Sankey is earning a lot of yards as well.
Route Running & Technique
Sankey is a pretty decent route runner at this point and Washington has him run a number of different routes that allow him to make plays. There are plenty of examples where he sells a block before releasing out of the backfield, but he can also make plays on screen passes. He shows the ability to contribute in a more ambitious route tree and that should be something they do more of this coming season as Sankey came on during the last half of the season with 27 of his 33 catches coming from week six on and six catches in their bowl game against Boise State. Perhaps the bowl game was a preview of things to come as Sankey was effective running an angle route out of the backfield that resulted in a nice chunk of yardage.
Sankey has natural hands and is comfortable snatching the ball out of the air, but he has not been asked to make too many ambitious catches and will go with his body if he is unsure of the situation or think he will be exposed to a big hit that might jar the ball loose. He is able to adjust after making the catch relatively quickly but could make a smoother transition from pass catcher to run after the catch. Sankey is much quicker making that transition when is able to make the catch with his hands as opposed to the body.
Carrying the football, Sankey is pretty reliable when it comes to protecting it and carries the ball relatively securely, but he can give up the ball if he is caught by surprise and takes a hit he is not expecting. Again, this could improve if he continues adding strength, but he has been pretty good to this point and this does not appear to be a concern.
Run After Catch
When he catches the ball with his hands, he is a dynamic threat out of the backfield and it becomes an extension of the running game and just changes where he is running the ball from, providing a huge opportunity. The times when he catches the ball with his body slow him down, but if he has the space to adjust, he can make a huge play there as well. Especially near the sideline with fewer defenders in front of him, Sankey can make a big play but if the Huskies call more plays where he can catch the ball at the second level, he could make exploit the lack of a defensive presence there and take it to the house, especially if he catches the ball while going down the field.
This is an area where Sankey really struggles. He is simply uncomfortable, never seems confident in what he is doing and will just be overpowered at times. For the most part will get dive and try to cut block the opponent or try to stand in and absorb the hit. The problem for Sankey usually starts with his sense of when to launch himself into the block, high or low. Usually, Sankey ends up going too early and loses all of his power because he catches the block too late and with little power, so it has little impact. When he is going low, the defender can simply step over him; high, they can just push him into the quarterback. He tends to get off balance as a result of trying to lunge early rather than just stay in and block, which should improve with more bulk. Sankey also needs to do a better job of getting some distance between himself and the quarterback so if he is going to get knocked back and have to recover, he has the space to do it. This is an area where Sankey has got to be more effective to protect Keith Price this year and the quarterback of whichever NFL team that gets him in the future.
The style that appears the best fit for Sankey at this point is a zone blocking scheme that will allow him to see and pick holes he can attack and exploit. He has great vision and knows how to attack creases when they appear so running a scheme that is designed to create options for a running back to choose where he will go is a good move with Sankey. He can run out of a single back or behind a fullback and can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. There are also some times when they have put him in the backfield in a Wildcat formation. Sankey has got to do a better job blocking and protecting the quarterback so he can be an every down threat.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Boise State|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Illinois|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Idaho State|
|Sat, Sept 28||vs. Arizona|
|Sat, Oct. 5||at Stanford|
|Sat, Oct. 12||vs. Oregon|
|Sat, Oct. 19||at Arizona State|
|Sat, Oct. 26||vs Cal|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs Colorado|
|Fri, Nov. 15||at UCLA|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at Oregon State|
|Fri, Nov. 29||vs. Washington State|
The first game of the year against Boise State is going to be worth watching. These two faced off against each other in their Bowl matchup last year and the Broncos beat Washington 28-26, but Sankey had 279 total yards. With an entire offseason for both sides to digest, there should be a good amount of intensity in this game from the Huskies trying to get them back for losing and the Broncos trying to stop Sankey for pride in addition to starting off the year with a win. Sankey was productive last year against Stanford, playing a huge role in their ability to win that game, but that defense is still quite talented and it is another opportunity for him to prove just how good he is with another team who will be geared to try to shut him down. The last two games of the season should be worth keeping an eye on as well as Sankey was productive but not tremendous in their games against Oregon State or Washington State. And in the case of last year’s Apple Cup, the Cougars were able to pull out a decent sized upset in their last game of the year.
Sankey’s game is quite similar to that of current Denver Bronco back Ronnie Hillman. Hillman left San Diego State as a redshirt sophomore at virtually the same size as Sankey played last year. Both were incredibly productive in college, had tremendous short area quickness, the ability to make guys miss, great vision, and enough speed to be a long threat who excel in a zone blocking scheme type offense that enable them to find and pick running lanes. Each was able to contribute out of the backfield as a receiver, but both struggled as blockers. Hillman was a third round pick as a sort of a project back at the time, but Sankey could come out bigger and more polished if he can improve as a blocker with another year or two of development.
Bishop Sankey looks the part of a top 100 pick now, but could secure himself a spot in the top 50 or even higher. He is an extremely natural runner and if he can continue expanding his game to make him a dual threat as a receiver and a serviceable blocker, he has a chance to make a huge impact for the Huskies this year but also in the NFL whenever he decides to make the leap. That along with added strength could make him a big time back at the next level.