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The Backfield Report (Part 1): Bishop Sankey at 1.01, and “Riders on the Storm”

During the 2013 NFL season, I did Tuesday rundowns of all the NFL backfield situations, and I also put out a special Combine Edition of the Backfield Report in February. Given that the dust has just settled from the NFL Draft and the RotoViz studisticians have recently released the Official Composite Rookie Rankings, I figured that a Big-As-Balls Two-Part Post-Draft/Post-Rookie-Rankings/Pre-Training-Camp Super-Sized Edition of the Backfield Report was in order. Click here to see Part 2. Here we go!

Bishop Sankey

I don’t have much to say about Bishop Sankey that hasn’t already been said by almost everybody at RotoViz. He has ridiculous comps, he’s a workhorse, he’s Christine Michael with actual collegiate production, he’s a must-know rookie, he has Forte-esque scoring potential, he’s a great receiver, he’s been our #1 rookie RB seemingly forever, our confidence in him is almost unanimous—and yet we’re probably still way too low on him, at least according to James Todd, with whom I am now in agreement.

In the recent composite rookie rankings, I had Sankey at #5 overall, which is exactly where the staff collectively ranked him. Even though he’s the first RB on our big board, #5 is too low. He should be #1 pick overall, especially in PPR leagues. On the 2 Mugs Podcast in February, I said that Sankey was a top-3 rookie, and on the High Stakes Fantasy Football Hour in April I said that he was the only guy in the 2014 class with a chance of becoming LeSean McCoy—an opinion I first expressed months ago—but after the draft I got lost in wide receiver fever and forgot just how truly statistically awesome Sankey is as a prospect. Sankey needs to be the top pick in rookie drafts. He’s perhaps the best—or at least the stankiest—RB we’ve seen in years.

I admit that I might not be objective about Sankey. I wrote about him in my Fight Hunger Bowl Preview in December, and before that I wrote about him in my 2013 preseason piece on a small group of draft-eligible high-nQBDR rushers, so perhaps long-term familiarity has bred undue admiration. (By the way, the nQBDR metric measures a non-QB rusher’s production relative to the other non-QB rushers on his team. Basically, it measures the extent to which a RB is a workhorse. For more on nQBDR, here’s my introduction to the metric. A list of my nQBDR-centric posts can be found in my New Mexico Bowl Preview from a couple months ago.)

But for what it’s worth, I don’t think my objectivity has been compromised. For months I’ve been working on “The Workhorse Metric” (WM), which is basically nQBDR with “non-representative games” factored out—and by that I mean games in which a guy is injured and misses significant action and games that are blowouts (both wins and losses). I could give you more detail but I don’t want to bore you. Anyway, it’s a bitch to comb through the games to determine which are representative—but I think WM (at a minimum) accurately describes the extent to which any given runner is a workhorse; that is, relied on by his offense in game situations that matter.

Why am I mentioning this? Because Sankey scored an elite 96.48 WM as a sophomore and a still more-than-respectable 85.34 WM as a junior—so he averaged over a 90 WM for his two full years as a starter. And, to give you some context, here are the 3 second-round RBs of the 2013 and 2012 classes to score WMs of at least 90 in one of their college seasons: Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, and Isaiah Pead. So, yeah, I guess Sankey could turn into Pead, and that would suck—but I think he’s basically a smaller, faster, quicker Le’Veon Bell, which is really just another way of saying he’s LeSean McCoy.

In summary: Sankey is a high-round draft choice with strong college production, great measured agility and explosion, sufficient size and speed, and good receiving chops—and now he’s slated to be the starter on a team with no other RBs who are a threat to steal lots of carries. In a class stacked with tons of high-end receiving talent and almost no other high-end RB options, Sankey feels like a strong 1.01. Instead of taking Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans at #1 and a crap-shot RB at the top of Round 2, take Sankey at #1 and then whatever strong WR falls out of Round 1, whether that’s Devante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, or K-Benjy. It’s not the traditional choice—but it’s the stankiest.

Jeremy Hill   

In February, I said this of Hill: “If you wanted to call him the #1 RB in the 2014 class, I wouldn’t say you’re wrong.” Before the draft Shawn Siegele preferred Hill to Carlos Hyde, and after the draft Siegele remains as high on Hill as anybody else is. Last year—even with Andy Dalton’s inconsistencies and former-OC Jay Gruden’s pass-happy tendencies—the Bengals featured two runners, Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had RB2 and RB3 fantasy utility. Now, with Hue Jackson’s run-heavy offense in Cincinnati, the Bengals should easily be able to support two RBs—and, in case you forgot, the Law Firm is a soon-to-be-29-year-old inefficient plodder whose immediate release would create $2.5M in cap room. At worse, Jeremy Hill should be able to do what BJGE did last year, and if Gio gets injured than Hill could be a very strong injury fill-in.

As a redshirt sophomore, the 233-lb. Hill accumulated almost 1600 scrimmage yards in 12 games. Here’s the list of SEC RBs since 1998 who weighed at least 220 lbs. when entering the NFL and recorded at least one collegiate season of at least 1500 scrimmage yards: Eddie Lacy, Arian Foster, Jamal Lewis, Rudi Johnson, Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Artose Pinner, and Anthony Dixon. Basically, everyone on this list who got the chance to start some games in the NFL has had at least one top-10 RB season in his career—and the only highly drafted guy on that list to do absolutely nothing (Hardesty) had his career ruined by a knee injury before he even played an NFL game. In the RotoViz Composite Rookie Rankings, I have Hill at #8 (the staff collectively has him at #11), but I can see an argument for him as high as #5, especially in non-PPR leagues.

Terrance West

A: This is a big guy on a team the Offensive Coordinator of which is Kyle Shanahan.

Q: What’s for dinner?

Isaiah Crowell

A: This is a big guy on a team the Offensive Coordinator of which is Kyle Shanahan.

Q: What else is for dinner?

Charles Sims

In the RotoViz Rookie Rankings, the only guy higher than I was on Sims was The Fon(z)taine, and I’m kind of surprised more of us aren’t enamored with him—Sims, not Fontaine . . . well I guess him too, but I was originally talking about Sims. Anyway . . .

Sims has DeMarco-esque potential, especially with his 2000 career receiving yards, and even though he’ll be 24 years old as a rookie, you can’t overlook his consistent college production (four straight seasons of 1200+ scrimmage yards), his athleticism (a 4.48-second 40 time at 214 lbs.), and his advantageous draft position (the #4 RB of the board, with a pick near the top of Round 3).

Maybe you don’t like that Sims landed in Tampa Bay’s seemingly crowded backfield—but after Doug Martin there’s nothing on the team but a former sixth-round bruiser who never served as a true workhorse in college; an undrafted soon-to-be-27-year-old third-year veteran who is probably underrated but nevertheless already past his physical prime; and an undrafted Olympic sprinter who sometimes pretends to be an NFL runner.

I guess what I’m saying is this—and pardon the overdone basketball conceit—if V-Jax, Thirteen, and ASJ are forming Tampa’s metaphorical frontcourt and Josh McCown is the facilitating point guard with Martin as the shooting guard, Sims will be the sixth man who comes off the bench early in games to provide a spark—and if one of the other guys gets injured, even one of the big guys, I expect that Tampa will simply go small and let Sims pick up a lot of the slack. Or something like that.

Lorenzo Taliaferro

A: This is a big guy on a team the Offensive Coordinator of which is Gary Kubiak.

Q: Is there any dessert?

Rajion Neal

Embarrassingly, I’m the only guy who bothered to rank Rajion Neal in the RotoViz Rookie Rankings. (Embarrassing for whom is yet to be determined.) I had him at #51. If you sort by Composite Ranking, you’ll see that he’s the lowest ranked player. Yep, that one was all Freedman. I’ll just say what I have to say and then move on.

For his final two seasons of college, Neal was very underrated. He was the glue of Tennessee’s offense. He’s a capable receiver, he’s big (220 lbs.), and he’s fast enough (4.57 40 time). He’s not a guy to select in rookie drafts, but he’s a guy to keep in mind. I mean, if Eddie Lacy were to suffer a season-ending injury in Week 2, James Starks were to prove utterly mediocre by Week 4, and Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris were to seem too small for words by Week 6, would any of that actually be surprising??? If all of that happens, Rajion Neal could easily become Ryan Grant. It’s happened before.

Storm Johnson

This dude is like the classic Doors song for which he was almost certainly (not) named. I have to say, I’ve watched a ton of film on this guy, and so I know that he has a certain smoothness to his style, and his long strides evoke the spidery movements of Ray Manzarek’s willowy fingers.1

He’s a seventh-round pick, so he’s not an elite runner, but he’s a good receiver (30 receptions in 2013), he’s big (218 lbs. at his pro day), and he had an elite 93.71 WM in his final college season (for context, Alfred Morris had a 92.00 WM)—and as much as I like Toby Gerhart and love Jordan Todman I can’t say that there’s truly an established starter ahead of Storm on the depth chart.

Let me put it to you another way: Do you really believe that a glorified fullback, a small journeyman tailback, and a converted college QB are going to keep a dude named “Storm” off the field?

There’s a killer on the road…

  1. I’m fucking with you.  (back)

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