Perhaps no running backs have seen their average draft position rise more than rookie Giovani Bernard and Shane Vereen of the Patriots. A month ago, Bernard was being drafted at 6.04. Fast forward to August 20th, and he is being drafted a whole round earlier. Vereen, meanwhile, went from being on hardly any fantasy radars, to being one of the most talked about non-elite guys out there. Both present some serious upside for the upcoming season, but which one would I recommend rostering in your fantasy leagues?
Making the case for Bernard
Perhaps the most dynamic and explosive rookie back in this year’s class, Bernard may already be the best back on the Bengals roster. Sure, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still very much in the mix, but he clearly doesn’t provide the same explosiveness that Bernard presents. Also, despite being the typical, more favorable build for the goal line work, the Law Firm struggled in close last season. When inside the twenty yard line in 2012, Green-Ellis had 43 attempts, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry. The Bengals are aware that BJGE is serviceable, but he isn’t a feature back, which is why they selected Bernard in the second round of this year’s draft. The kid is electric with the ball in his hands, can catch the ball out of the backfield (something Green-Ellis lacks) and running backs coach Hue Jackson is very high on his rookie, stating that he can be an every-down back for the Bengals. Also, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden spoke very highly of Bernard during the earlier days of camp. I think it’s only a matter of time before Bernard takes over the majority of carries in this offense, while Green-Ellis handles the short yardage work. The fact that Bernard, a rookie, is doing very well in pass protection is just another reason to be high on him. A rookie’s performance in pass blocking could be the demise of their playing time. The Bengals have a stellar offensive line, I strongly believe that Bernard will soon emerge into the dominant back, resulting in at least a top-25 fantasy option.
Making the case for Vereen
Vereen has been hyped up throughout the entire offseason, largely due to the fact that the Patriots offense is a barren wasteland after losing many of their weapons. No Wes Welker, no Aaron Hernandez, no Brandon Lloyd and likely for some of the 2013 season, no Rob Gronkowski either. Quarterback Tom Brady and that Patriots offense aren’t going to change their offensive approach. Brady will still be an aggressive passer, and someone will have to emerge into a legitimate weapon for this unit. That someone will most certainly be Vereen. The 24-year old versatile back emerged as a pass-catcher during the playoffs last season, and already this preseason, he has been heavily utilized. During Friday’s preseason contest, Vereen saw four carries, six targets and caught four balls. Vereen will be very productive for fantasy owners this season. Despite how many (or few) carries he may get, Vereen will line up in the slot, outside, everywhere, making him a strong investment in PPR formats. Don’t forget, Danny Woodhead also isn’t in New England anymore, and despite only carrying the ball 76 times last season, he still finished as fantasy’s number 25 running back, thanks to his 40 catches and three scores. Again, that was with guys like Welker, Lloyd and Hernandez, so if Vereen is expected to man Woodhead’s role (and then some), why can’t he finish inside the top-25 in 2013?
Boy, this is one of the closest debates I’ve done thus far. Both have tons of upside this season, and both will be one of those mid-round picks that will lead owners to a fantasy championship. If I were in a PPR league, I’d lean towards Vereen. Much better quarterback, will catch more passes and has the better opportunity to do so. In a standard league, however, I’m going with Bernard. He’s a better runner between the tackles, and like I said, I strongly believe that job will be his by Week 4 or five. One thing is for sure. Both of these guys are in line for monster usage in 2013.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.