Summary: The Huskies had a disappointing 2012 season, but bounced back to field a tough team in 2013. The biggest reason was Sankey. While he played well as a sophomore replacing Chris Polk, Sankey dominated the Pac-12 last fall. The junior ran well against the elite teams in the conference and was a steady force on the ground for Washington.
In 2012, Sankey had an excellent debut as a starter. He averaged five yards per carry and totaled 1,439 yards with 16 touchdowns, plus caught 33 passes for 249 yards. Sankey ended the season in impressive fashion with 205 yards on 30 carries against Boise State. The toughest defense he saw all season was Stanford, yet he gained 144 yards on 20 carries.
Sankey was one of the nation's best backs in 2013. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the year for 1,775 yards with 18 touchdowns. The junior also tracked down 25 receptions for 298 yards and another score. Sankey ran really well against Stanford (27-125-2) and Oregon (28-167-2), though he did have a fumble against the Ducks.
Sankey was remarkably consistent as he went over 100 yards in nine different games with two others above 90 yards rushing. He also reached 200 yards in three games: Illinois (35-208), California (27-241) and Washington State (34-200). Sankey scored a touchdown in every game of the season. He made the right decision to enter the 2014 NFL Draft as he had nothing left to prove in college and already totaled a lot of carries across the past two seasons (616).
Sankey is a well-balanced runner. He is elusive around defenders and runs with great pad level and balance. That allows him to pick up yards after contact. Sankey has quickness, strength, toughness and receiving ability. He will need to continue to improve his blitz protection and receiving skills, but he has good starting points should end up being a three-down back quickly in his NFL career.
At the Combine, Sankey ran faster than expected with a 40-yard dash time of 4.49 seconds. He also had an impressive total on the bench press (26 reps) and did well in the receiver drills. That performance solidified Sankey as a second-day selection.
For the NFL, Sankey looks like a three-down starting running back. If he were a little bigger and faster, he could be a first-round talent, but he should be one of those second-day backs that ends up being a starter in the NFL and a favorite of fantasy football players.
Player Comparison: Ray Rice. Sankey is similar to the Rice that played pre-2013, not the one that slumped coming off the Super Bowl. Sankey is a little bit smaller than Rice (5-9, 218), but Sankey could end up weighing about the same after some time in the NFL. They share the same running style. Both Sankey and Rice have quickness to the hole and are shifty runners with excellent pad level to pick up yards after contact. Both players are tough to bring down. Rice was a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, and Sankey could be selected in the same round this May.
NFL Matches: Houston, Tennessee, Cleveland, Oakland, Miami, New York Jets, Atlanta
There are a lot of teams that are going to target running backs on the second day, or in the mid-rounds, of the 2014 NFL Draft.
In the AFC South, Sankey has a few landing spots. The Titans are moving on from Chris Johnson, and Sankey would be a nice replacement as their feature back. The Texans could use a running back behind Arian Foster. Ben Tate is gone and Foster has had injuries, so it looks very likely that Houston will be drafting a running back. Sankey could fit the Texans at the top of Round 3 - if he gets there.
In the AFC West, Oakland signed Darren McFadden to a 1-year deal, but the Raiders could use a back capable of carrying their offense in case McFadden gets hurt again.
In the Big Apple, the Jets could use a featured runner for their offense. Elsewhere in the AFC East, Miami is still searching for a stable running back. Sankey could be brought in to compete with the Dolphins' holdovers.
Cleveland is likely to address running back in free agency, but the team could use multiple backs. The Browns could use one of their second-day picks on Sankey. Cleveland could get a nice value by targeting a back Sankey in Round 3 - if he is still available.
Atlanta made a short-term signing with Steven Jackson, but the Falcons need a starter for the long haul. Sankey could be a nice fit in Atlanta.