Giovani Bernard was a rookie for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013. He put together a pretty strong campaign after being selected 37th overall in the NFL draft earlier that spring. Bernard rushed for 695 yards and five touchdowns, but it was his PPR value that helped to separate him from the pack of running backs, making him a real asset for the 2014 fantasy football season.
Benjarvus Green-Ellis, known to some as the Law Firm, was named the Bengals’ starting RB out of training camp last season. It quickly became apparent that Bernard was the more flashy, elusive and big play potential runner of the two. Green-Ellis was used in certain goal line situations and as a change of pace. His carries went from 278 in 2012, to 220 in 2013 — a substantial drop off. He caught 20 passes in 2012, compared to only four in 2013, further proof of Bernard’s impact on the Bengals’ offense.
The drafting of Bernard should signal a changing of the guard in Cincy’s backfield. Bernard averaged 4.1 yards per attempt last season to Green-Ellis’ 3.4. The North Carolina product seems poised to become the first truly relevant fantasy running back for the Bengals on a week to week basis since Rudi Johnson had his back-to-back seasons of 1,400+ yards rushing and 12 touchdowns from 2004-05.
According to Yahoo Sports’ PPR fantasy format, Bernard finished with the 14th most fantasy points of any running back in 2013. Considering a large slice of his potential touches were given to Green-Ellis, that’s an admirable feat. Bernard also finished eighth overall in both receptions by a running back with 56, and receiving yards by a running back with 514.
Green-Ellis turned 29 this summer and is in the final year of his contract with the Bengals. There have been training camp rumors circulating that he is on the bubble to make the 53-man roster. With a cloudy future in Cincinnati for the Law Firm, let’s analyze a few other players who may impede on Bernard getting the most out of his touches this season.
The Bengals used a consecutive second round pick on a running back to select Jeremy Hill out of LSU this year. Hill is 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds in contrast to Bernard’s 5-foot-9, 202 pound frame. He likely projects to get some carries on the goal line, but his 4.66 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine shows he does not possess the home run capabilities of Bernard. Don’t expect him to be used regularly in third down situations.
Another name that will be vying for some touches is the former Cornhusker, Rex Burkhead. He was taken in the same draft as Bernard, 153 picks afterward. Burkhead had a productive junior year with Nebraska, accumulating 1,553 all purpose yards with 17 touchdowns. He missed a large majority of the team’s first three games in his senior year in 2012, before returning in Week 4 and finishing the year with an average of 6.9 yards per attempt on 98 carries. If anyone is a dark horse to emerge for touches in the Bengals’ backfield, it is Burkhead.
Cedric Peerman is another name to take note of. The five year veteran has only one career start that came back in 2012 with the Bengals. He will likely be used for insurance purposes.
Bernard is already listed on the official Bengals’ depth chart as the starting running back for the upcoming season. It’s clear head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson want Bernard to be a focal point this season and increase his workload. He should get more than 200 carries in 2014 to build on his 170 from last season, if healthy.
Bernard should creep his way up toward being a top 10 running back in 2014. He has a strong supporting cast around him in QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green, as well as a defense that will give the offense plenty of chances to be on the field and reach the end zone this upcoming NFL season.