Should Rex Burkhead or Cedric Peerman be the Third Running Back?


Nov 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback

Andy Dalton

(14) and running back

Rex Burkhead

(33) celebrate a New Orleans Saints penalty in the second quarter of their game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, Bengals running back Rex Burkhead has received an uptick in playing time due to Giovani Bernard‘s absence; the Bengals typically carry only three running backs on gamedays (Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Cedric Peerman), so Burkhead is often among the team’s inactives.  But while Bernard has been hurt, Burkhead has taken advantage of his extra snaps and has made an impact during games.

The Bengals’ current third running back, Cedric Peerman, is no slouch himself.  Peerman was signed to a two-year extension during the 2013 off-season due largely to his special teams ability.  He was then made the captain of this unit and he’s retained this title since.

Peerman was made captain for good reason.  Since 2012, he has been an integral part of the special teams unit.  According to Team Rankings (tackles and fumble recoveries) and Sporting Charts (% of snaps), Peerman had seven tackles and one fumble recovery in 2012. In 2013, Peerman had 12 tackles and one fumble recovery while playing 68.2% of special teams snap. Thus far this year, Peerman is the Bengals’ leading tackler (8) while having played 66.7% of the snaps.

While acting as the team’s third running back, Cedric Peerman has accumulated just 43 yards on 14 carries (one of these carries was for 21 yards) while he has caught three passes for 27 yards. To his credit, Peerman did have one catch for 17 yards which came on a third and eight in the second quarter of the Jacksonville game.

Peerman has been an integral part of the special teams unit for a few years now regardless of his offensive prowess. Yet, Peerman’s contract is up after this year and Rex Burkhead is waiting in the wings. Burkhead hasn’t been given nearly as time much to play special teams and his offensive snaps have been just as sparse.  But despite the limited opportunity, he’s managed to quickly make an impact on this team both on special teams and offense. During the Jacksonville game, Burkhead made a nice move and managed to block a punt.  Due to his effort, the punt only traveled 27 yards.

Burkhead further made his impact felt during the game against the Saints in Week 11, but this time on offense. Near the start of the second quarter with the Bengals pinned down on their own three yard line, Burkhead made a nice catch off a play action pass that went for 11 yards and earned the Bengals a first down.  During the third quarter, he made an impressive catch while falling down, which again earned the Bengals a first down.

On that same drive when

Andy Dalton

found himself under pressure and on the run, Burkhead improvised and found enough space to allow Dalton to make a relatively easy pass for a big first down on a third and 11.  The drive eventually led to a touchdown and essentially put the game out of reach.

In a lot of ways, Rex Burkhead reminds me of former Bengals running back Brian Leonard.  He has that knack for making the big play when it matters most regardless of how much playing time he receives.  Going forward, Burkhead could be a valuable weapon for this team who also provides production on special teams.

And the future is an important factor to consider here.  At year’s end, Cedric Peerman is a free agent.  He’ll turn 29 next year and will cost significantly more than Burkhead will.  Meanwhile, Burkhead will cost about half the money and is signed until 2017.  The important thing is Burkhead seems to provide similar, if not equal, production.  This while the special teams unit has some great special team players on the rise who have leadership skills, most notably Shawn Williams.

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There isn’t a wrong answer here.  The Bengals have received solid production from Cedric Peerman this year and in years past.  But Rex Burkhead was considered a “steal” when the Bengals drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 draft.  He’s young and has great potential to be a very solid player for this team.  Giovani Bernard has been on the mend lately, but returned to practice this week.  This means the Bengals will be forced to inactivate a running back in the coming weeks.  The likely scenario is that Burkhead is inactivated once more.  But should he be?  His performance lately says he should be considered for some extra opportunities in the coming weeks.