The NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year will be announced Saturday night before Super Bowl XLVIII, and Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard is a worthy candidate for the award.
After a season in which Bernard notched a total of 1,209 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns while revolutionizing the running game in Cincinnati — not to mention his strong showing as a pass blocker — Bernard is rightfully in the discussion for the prestigious award.
As great as Bernard was, his competition for the prize is stiff. The other contestants are San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy and Minnesota Vikings wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.
Bernard will be remembered for his highlight-worthy plays, but it is specifically Allen and Lacy who helped to change their franchises en route to strong production.
Before Lacy, the Packers had no running game to speak of — and then the Aaron Rodgers injury hit. NFL.com’s Judy Battista tells the rest of the story best:
When Aaron Rodgers got hurt, Green Bay looked doomed. Except that the offense finally had a running game with Eddie Lacy — one that became so potent that it helped the Packers stay afloat until Rodgers could return to get them to the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Lacy finished with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. Most importantly, the rookie breathed life into his team when it needed it most.
Want the perfect summary of how Lacy helped to change the culture in Green Bay? In the postseason against the San Francisco 49ers, Lacy had 23 total touches. Rodgers threw 26 passes.
Allen had a similar impact in San Diego, where he caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight scores as the No. 1 receiver — and also helped to turn around the career of quarterback Philip Rivers. For his efforts, Allen already has one award under his belt, per the Chargers on Twitter:
— San Diego Chargers (@chargers) January 14, 2014
The award for Allen makes sense, as the overall position is a big part of the deal. Rookie running backs generally have an easier time putting up stats in their first year — take the handoff and get up field — pretty simple. Receivers have an entirely different task and generally, unless they are an A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson, have trouble posting meaningful statistics. That in itself should tell fans just how great of a player Allen can become.
Bernard’s impact was simply not as profound in such an obvious sense, and it does not help that he was but one part of a committee approach at the position with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
The North Carolina product is a major underdog Saturday night, which is fine. Bernard may not emerge with the award, but his future is just as bright as the other nominated players. The recognition is more than deserved.