The Cincinnati Bengals are facing a potential problem in the very crowded backfield. Do they unleash Giovani Bernard as the feature back or do they continue to run a "running-back-by commitee" (RBBC) backfield as they did in 2013?
The RBBC backfield certainly worked well for the Bengals last season as BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard shared the ball-carrying duties as they rolled-up a combined 1,451 yard rushing.
Consider the 2013 final statistics for yardage by running backs reveals LeSean McCoy leading the league with 1,607 yards, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry. Matt Forte was second with 1,339 total yards, averaging 4.6 y-p-c.
The Bengals’ backfield falls in-between first and second with the combined 1,451 yards.
A more telling stat, though, would be Bernard rushed for 695 yards on 170 attempts, which works out to 4.1 y-p-c.
That level of production is on-par with the likes of Marshawn Lynch (4.2 y-p-c), Eddie Lacy and Frank Gore (both 4.1 y-p-c) and Chris Johnson (3.9 y-p-c). All of these backs ran for more than 1,000 yards last season.
Bernard’s carried the ball 170 last season. Bump that number up to 283 (the average number of touches the top five running backs had in 2013) and Bernard would total 1,160 yards. Bernard would have been ninth in the National Football League in rushing in 2013 with those numbers.
Green-Ellis’ numbers fall off because his yard-per-carry average is only 3.4. Bernard is gaining, on average, a half-a-yard more than Green-Ellis. In the ‘game-of-inches’ that football is, this is a mile.
Green-Ellis is also 29-years-old and this is over-the-hill for a running back in the NFL. The shelf life of a running back is five-to-six years. Green-Ellis is beginning to feel the wear-and-tear of the NFL. When Green-Ellis was rushing for the Patriots, he had, respectively, seasons with 4.4, 4.4, 3.7 and 3.9 y-p-c seasons. There is also a quality drop-off in the offensive line that must be taken into consideration since the Patriots have that really good quarterback under-center, you know, he goes by the name of Tom Brady. The Patriots have always invested well in their offensive line.
The Bengals? Not-so-much.
Green-Ellis’ yards-per-carry drop-off could be attributed to that change, but since Bernard was able to average 4.1 y-p-c behind the same o-line, age is a more likely factor.
There is another startling stat that Bernard brings to the table in his case for breakout player in 2014.
Bernard caught the second-most passes for the Bengals last season with 56 and was third on the team in receiving yards with 514.
This type of production puts Bernard in LaDainaian Tomlinson production level. Tomlinson averaged, I say AVERAGED, 289 carries-a-season, 1,244 yards-per-season rushing, 57 receptions-a-season and 433 yard-per-season receiving. Those number include two lackluster seasons with the New York Jets and two seasons which were shortened by injury.
Take out the two season with the Jets and Tomlinson’s numbers are 320 c-p-s, 1,388 y-p-s, 59 r-p-s and 439 y-p-s. A true duel-threat back if ever there was one.
Give Bernard these averages on carries-per-season and his yardage jumps up to 1,312 yards-per-season and his receiving yards jump up to 542 per-season.
Is it premature to call Bernard a re-incarnated Tomlinson? Yes. Is it feasible for the Bengals to utilize Bernard in this manner? Absolutely.
The Bengals just need to decide if that want this Tomlinson-style work horse to carry the offense, or not.Referencing back to Bernard’s days at North Carolina, he is more than capable of carrying this workload. Bernard averaged 211 carries-per-season and 46 receptions-per-season for 1,241 rushing-yards-per-season and 426 receiving-yards-per-season, respectively.
Giovani Bernard is poised and ready for the work load and, deservedly so, the spotlight.