The Bengals have been lacking a truly explosive presence in the backfield for quite some time, and Bernard has already shown he has the ability to provide a spark while either carrying the ball or catching passes—both out of the backfield and lined up on the line of scrimmage.
Given his current average draft selection of 67th overall (27th RB), you won’t even have to spend a high draft choice to land him. Want to grab a top running back in the first round and then Aaron Rodgers if available in the second round? You’re going to need to find a mid-round running back to snatch in order to build a balanced squad.
Bernard is that guy.
Keep in mind, though, that he will lose carries to projected starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis initially. Bernard’s current inability to consistently pass protect may keep him from being a top fantasy player out of the gate, but his potential to impact the game for the Bengals offense won’t be discounted by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Finding ways to get him involved in the game plan in 2013 will be a priority, not an afterthought. In just three preseason appearances, Bernard has worked with the team’s first offense extensively and has already compiled 104 yards on 23 rushes for a 4.52 YPC average. His six receptions for 55 yards are a true testament to the dual threat he brings to the table.
For an offense that finished just 22nd in scoring last season—the fifth straight season finishing 20th or worse—they certainly need the help. It’s hard to imagine Gruden not utilizing him frequently throughout the early parts of the season, and even more once he can get a better handle on protecting quarterback Andy Dalton.
Green-Ellis, on the other hand, is a one-dimensional back. He averaged just 3.9 YPC last season, although he did eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. We already know what you get with the Law Firm. He’s a downhill runner who can occasionally break out a big run, but he isn’t the type of player who is going to create many big plays.
Last year, he did have seven runs of 20 yards or more, and his biggest reception went for 13 yards. To put that in perspective, backup Cedric Peerman broke out three runs of 20 yards or longer on just 36 carries. BJGE carried the ball 278 times.
Chances are high that the elusive and quick-footed back will get his chance to not only spell BJGE, but also eventually take over the dominant share of snaps completely. His ability to make cuts, instantly redirect his body and speed and get up the field in a hurry will make it impossible for the Bengals to keep him on the sidelines. Speed kills, and Bernard has it and the acceleration needed to make it hurt.
His current fifth-round fantasy draft selection average may seem a little risky, as the cat is seemingly out of the bag, but Bernard has done everything and more expected of him to this point. Expect him to continue to exceed expectations and become a top-20 running back before season’s end.
Call it cliché, but Bernard is a playmaker. That’s really what it boils down to and all you should consider on draft day.