Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories previewing the 2014 NFL Draft, which begins May 8.
In Bishop Sankey’s opinion, the best running back in this year’s NFL Draft hails from Northeast Ohio.
Although his roots are not mentioned in his bio on the University of Washington’s athletics website, Sankey was born in Wadsworth and lived there with his grandparents, William and Carol Becker, until he was 7. He also has family in Akron — grandmother Celia Sankey lives on the East side — and his mother, Julie Becker, lives in Cleveland. Several relatives plan to visit him and his father, Chris Sankey, in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles to watch the draft unfold May 8-10.
No matter how it pans out, Sankey is eager to validate his theory about where he fits into this year’s class of running backs.
“I think I’m at the top,” Sankey said in a recent phone interview with the Beacon Journal. “I think I’m the best all-around running back in this class. I think I’ve proven that the past few years. I think I’ve proven that I can move the ball on the ground, pass protect and catch out of the backfield.
“I’m a guy that prides myself on work ethic, not only on the field, but off the field. This past year, I had all-academic Pac-12 honors as well, and that was something that I was proud of. I’m the guy that comes with the same attitude each day, and I always look for things that I can get better at, not only in football, but in life in general.”
An Akron native and former running back at East High School, Sankey’s father is a technical sergeant in the Air Force who works with the ROTC program at UCLA. As a child, the younger Sankey moved from Wadsworth to Dayton when his dad was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force base. When he was 14, father and son relocated again to Spokane, Wash., where Bishop Sankey became a football star at Gonzaga Preparatory School.
Sankey vacillated between Northeast Ohio and his new homes as a fourth-grader and again as a freshman in high school because his father was deployed overseas. He played his first season of youth football in Wadsworth in fourth grade. He attended Wadsworth High School for about four months after he wrapped up his freshman football season in Washington. He returned to Spokane for the end of his freshman year and stayed at Gonzaga Prep for the rest of his high school days.
“But when people say where are you from, I definitely say I’m from Ohio originally and let them know everything that happened when I was there,” said Sankey, who has been training at EXOS in Carson, Calif.
The 5-foot-9, 209-pound Sankey said he has had a few private workouts and a few pre-draft visits with teams, though he declined to reveal which ones. Despite signing Ben Tate in March, the Browns are among the franchises interested in the possibility of drafting a running back next month.
“I think it’s solid running back class,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said during a conference call two weeks ago. “We’d be thrilled to get one. We’ve done our homework on the guys that are available in this draft. If the situation’s right and we have the right grade on a running back at that time, we’ll turn the card in for it.”
Sankey, 21, would embrace a homecoming.
“The Browns, I feel like they are a great club, and I would love to play for them,” said Sankey, who ran primarily in a zone-blocking scheme at Washington. “It would be right smack-dab where all my roots are, where all my family is. I know people in my family would be proud, and I would love to be part of the organization.”
A junior at Washington, Sankey is taking online classes and remains determined to earn a degree in communications. He sounded like an NFL insider while explaining where he expects to be picked.
“I’m hearing from different sources that I should go in the second round,” said Sankey, who had 616 carries for 3,309 yards (5.4 average) and 36 touchdowns to go along with 61 catches for 553 yards and a touchdown in his final two collegiate seasons.
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock ranks Sankey as the No. 1 running back prospect this year, followed by Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Louisiana State’s Jeremy Hill, Auburn’s Tre Mason and Boston College’s Andre Williams. NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki ranks Sankey sixth with Hyde atop the list of running backs in his draft guide.
“I do want to be the first back taken,” Sankey said. “I think it says a lot about what you bring to the table and who you are as a player if you are the first guy taken at your position. That’s really been my goal.”
This could become the second consecutive draft in which no running backs are selected during the first round. Last year, it happened for the first time since the common draft began in 1967, fueling the argument that the position has been devalued in the NFL.
“Maybe I’m biased, but I think the running back is one of the most valuable players on the offense,” Sankey said. “Not only do we run the ball and take pressure off the quarterback and the passing game, but we also protect the quarterback, block for the quarterback. We’re also used out of the backfield as an asset in the passing game. Not only that, I think a lot of running backs contribute a lot on special teams as well, whether it’s returning the ball on kick return or punt return or blocking for the returners. I think running the ball is essential to winning games, especially once it gets into the winter.”
Sankey believes he’ll be able to do all of those things at the next level, and he’s aiming to represent Northeast Ohio well no matter which team gives him a shot to show it.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.