When the Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard in the 2013 NFL Draft, reactions were mixed about whether the best running back in the draft was headed towards Cincinnati. Some were touting Eddie Lacy, yet another battering ram-type back out of Alabama, and others liked the huge upside of Johnathan Franklin.
What goes without saying, however, is that the Bengals drafted the best back for their situation.
The first reason is versatility. Bernard will immediately fill several holes in Jay Gruden’s offense. First of all, while Brian Leonard made some exceptional plays during his time in stripes, his receiving ability didn’t translate into big-play potential. What pass-blocking expertise Bernard may cede to Leonard, he more than makes up for it with the ability to take a safety-valve reception to the house.
The Bengals did make a move out of character last season by signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis for what has turned out to be pretty good money for a free-agent running back, and what the team received in 2012 was another stable, dependable downhill runner, much in the vein of Rudi Johnson.
Bernard, on the other hand, has vision and stop-on-a-dime cutting ability that Green-Ellis lacks. While Green-Ellis, whose experience was more power-blocking oriented, never fully warmed up to an increasing amount of zone runs, Bernard’s ankle-breaking changes of direction bring both Ray Rice and Allen Iverson to mind. It’s probably too early for a Barry Sanders comparison, but the similarities are in there.