Bengals Without Rex Burkhead Until October


Rex Burkhead is out until October. How will the Bengals handle their backfield in light of this? Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Until yesterday the prognosis on Rex Burkhead’s knee injury was completely unknown, but with editor Geoff Hobson reporting that Burkhead will miss the first month of the season, some clarity has been brought to the issue.  The Bengals can’t be to worried about his injury as yesterday they still chose to release veteran runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  So now the question on fans’ minds is, what will the Bengals do with their backfield in the meantime?  With runners like James Wilder, Jr. and Cedric Peerman available to compliment the promising duo of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the Bengals have several options in front of them.

Today, the Bengals will need to decide who they’ll release to the waiver wire: Burkead or Wilder? (assuming they retain Cedric Peerman due to his special teams ability).  After the announcement that Burkhead will miss only the first month, it’s unlikely that he would be placed on the I.R. in any form.  This news probably isn’t enough to hinder any interested team from claiming the young back either.  Burkhead is the more of a savvy runner of the two and is a capable blocker and receiver out of the backfield.  He’s a more polished special teams player as well, which will certainly help his case in this decision.

As for Wilder, he clearly the more powerful runner and may offer slightly more potential as a pure running back.  He made a name for himself in college as this type of player while helping Florida State win the National title.  Here’s a quick look at a run that has become typical for the rookie back.

He isn’t as polished as Burkhead in the receiving or special teams game, but does offer better blocking ability than initially thought by many.

Wilder played in a crowded backfield in college, so his legs are fresher than most coming out of college.  This gives Wilder more long-term potential than other runners who may have “less trend on the tires.”  Also playing into Wilder’s favor is the receiving ability of both Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, and presumed FB/HB/TE Ryan Hewitt.  Having these three receiving options leaves little need for any additional running backs with pass catching ability.  When parting ways with Green-Ellis, the Bengals gave up his penchant for getting the extra, tough yard(s).  Although Jeremy Hill looks equally capable, keeping him fresh will be vital, especially in his rookie season as he adjusts to the rigors of the NFL schedule.   The team may not want to pile the entirety of this duty on his shoulders meaning they’ll need a similar runner to Green-Ellis and Wilder is clearly that back.

In the end, I expect the Bengals to keep Burkhead on the roster due to his special teams ability.  They’ll release Wilder with hopes that he’ll make it through waivers so they can sign him to the practice squad, but this decision is about as close as it can get.  If the Bengals choose to keep Burkhead going forward, they’ll likely have to lean on Peerman for the services of a third running back until Burkhead returns.  If the team decides to roll the dice releasing Burkhead to the waiver wire, Wilder would be immediately available for “ground and pound” duties.  It’ll be an interesting and difficult decision for the coaches today.  Either way, fans will be praying that whoever is released makes it through waivers and is able to return to the Bengals.