With the 37th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals took Giovani Bernard, a running back out of North Carolina. This pick was greeted warmly by most Bengals fans, as he should be an instant upgrade in the backfield.
Bernard is considered to be an all-around complete back, but how can he enhance an aerial attack that was stagnant at the end of the 2012 season?
He does multiple things well when lined up in the backfield. Bernard is very solid in pass protection—he recognizes blitzes and picks them up well. He is a shifty runner with good burst and has excellent vision to find open space.
The main things he brings to the table, however, are his excellent hands and reliability as a receiver.
Last season, incumbent starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a nice security blanket as a receiving option coming out of the backfield. He caught a career-high 22 receptions, although he was more of a dump-off option, only averaging 4.7 yards per reception.
Enter Bernard and his 47 receptions for an average of 10.4 yards during his 2012 campaign at North Carolina.
His success at the collegiate level made him a favorite as a pass-catching running back in the draft. This is one of the reasons why Cincinnati elected to take him early in the second round.
Bush is able to create plenty of mismatches when coming out of the backfield as a receiver. He is usually pitted against a linebacker or safety and is easily able to out-maneuver both.
Let's take a look at one such play from last season while Bush was with the Miami Dolphins. This will give a very good indication of how Bernard can be used in the receiving game to create matchup problems for defenses and allow the offense to excel.
This play begins on the 17-yard line with Bush lined up next to quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the shotgun formation.
Tannehill motions a receiver across the field to give him an indication of the coverage. A corner slides across the formation, which leaves a single high safety deep on Bush's side. Since a cornerback is covering the outside wide receiver, this leaves a linebacker on Bush. The Dolphins have their desired matchup.
When the ball is snapped, Bush immediately takes off toward the corner of the end zone using his straight-line speed. With the receiver clearing across the middle, the safety now has to watch two routes develop in front of him.
With the linebacker trailing Bush, the corner drops off his man and the safety moves up to cover the wide receiver (creating a good matchup there). However, the corner has his back towards the end zone and has to make a 180-degree turn at full speed to catch up with Bush.
Now, with the ball already in the air, Bush has clearly beaten the linebacker on the route. The cornerback was left in poor position and struggles to get to Bush on a poor angle.
This allows Bush to beat both defenders to the ball by a solid yard while making a nice catch over his shoulder for the score.
It seems as though the Bengals' draft strategy was to select players that would create matchup nightmares for defensive coordinators around the league.
Adding Bernard as a receiving threat out of the backfield only increases the versatility of this already talented offense. If the Bengals and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden put it all together during the offseason, this could be a much different story for Cincinnati in 2013.
All screenshots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.