Can Rex Burkhead Finally Get on the Field?


Aug 24, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead (33) tries to avoid a tackle by Dallas Cowboys defensive back Xavier Brewer (33) during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys won 24-18. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

To this point in his career, Rex Burkhead has been a victim of the Bengals’ talented backfield.  He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft and was considered to be a steal by many.  But Burkhead was unable to get on the field due to healthy and productive runners in front of him.  After suffering a knee injury during this year’s preseason, he missed all of this season to date.  But Burkhead will returned to practice this week with hopes of being ready for the Bengals’ game versus the Patriots in Week Five.

Does this mean that fans might get a chance to see him in action this year?

Rex Burkhead is a talented back who works hard and “finishes plays”; Giovani Bernard made it a goal to be like Burkhead in this way during this year’s preseason.  Here’s a thought from Hue Jackson regarding Burkhead.

"“I can always in the meetings point to something he’s doing that’s giving us a chance to have success. It’s every day. There’s not a day that goes by. And that’s what matters to me: that guys are playing hard, finishing and taking care of business. He does that, there’s no question about that.”"

While Burkhead may not be the fastest running back, he has great vision, acceleration, and shiftiness (see his combine results).  He possesses good hands in the receiving game, and can block with the best of them.

His savvy for getting yards and all-around ability may remind fans of Brian Leonard and his impact on this team (from 2009-2012); is it really a surprise that Rex Burkhead was drafted the year Leonard signed with the Buccaneers?  Being someone who grew up deep in Patriot territory, he minds me of a key player in the Patriots’ Super Bowl years: Kevin Faulk.  You may not know who he is, but Faulk always seemed to come up with those key first downs and timely plays an offense needs.  Primarily a third down back, he could run, catch, and block to help the team gain those big plays and maintain possession; something that’s so key in big games and during the playoffs.  Burkhead reminds me a lot of this type of player.

But Burkhead’s current situation on this team seems similar to last year.  He’s buried behind two highly capable runners in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill while the team will likely maintain Ryan Hewitt’s versatile presence as a HB/TE/FB; the Bengals are currently short on talented tight ends with the injuries to Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith.  But it’s Cedric Peerman’s presence that most hinders Burkhead’s opportunity.

Cedric Peerman has been a reserve running back for the Bengals for several years now, but functions primarily as a captain of the Bengals’ special teams unit.  Thus far this year, this unit has performed extremely well according to editor Geoff Hobson.

"Add up the ten major special teams categories and the Bengals total rankings in them and it computes to a total of 118, second to the 89 of the Cowboys. They are overpowering the AFC North, where Baltimore (131), Pittsburgh (173) and Cleveland (204) trail mightily."

Peerman’s presence clearly has something to do with this and is invaluable to this team; he’s taken 65.9% of the Bengals’ special teams snaps this year.  Burkhead may possess ability on the special teams unit, but it’s highly unlikely he provides this type of leader at this point in his career.

It’s for this reason that Rex Burkhead is unlikely to see the field upon his return.  It’s slightly disappointing as Burkhead’s potential certainly sparks interest, but it’s likely he’ll have to wait until next year to get his shot; Burkhead is under contract until 2017 while Peerman becomes a free agent next year.