Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Last, but definitely not least, is the Bengals’ dynamic running back group, which features one of the league’s most dynamic duos.
As was briefly touched upon earlier, Jeremy Hill took the league by storm in 2014. When starting, Hill proved to be amongst the league’s best rushers. When acting as the team’s featured back, Hill averaged an astounding 5.7 yards/carry, which would’ve been the league’s best average. This isn’t to say that Hill will average as much in the coming season while acting as the team’s full time bell cow back, but it does say that he has every opportunity to be amongst the best, if not the best.
Hill’s counterpart Giovani Bernard offers a significant amount of promise himself. Bernard has struggled to produce an adequate yards/carry average during his first two seasons, but I believe this has more to do with the way he was being used versus the talent he offers. Bernard simply isn’t made to be a bruising bell cow back, and especially not in the AFC North and on a team that often faces defenses that stack the box daring Andy Dalton to throw the ball.
Assuming the Bengals employ Bernard under much more propitious circumstances in the coming year, I expect Bernard to have his best season yet when rushing the ball. He’ll continue to be an extremely dynamic offensive weapon, but will prove to be a promising and productive complementary back. Fans should be excited to watch him in the coming year.
The Bengals round out the group with some combination of Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman, James Wilder, Jr., and rookies Terrell Watson and Mark Weisman. Burkhead and Peerman are the most likely to win roster spots given their prowess on special teams and Burkhead’s emergence late last season despite limited opportunities.
Burkhead’s savvy for gaining the necessary yards should earn him some time at running back. Meanwhile Wilder and Watson could battle themselves onto the roster if they prove to be effective on special teams. Both are the type of bruising backs who’d fit well in a power running system. They’d offer the Bengals a player who can spell Jeremy Hill at times and still allow them to gain the requisite yards in short-yardage situations. It would keep Hill fresh for the final stretch of the season, and hopefully for the playoffs.
Cincinnati’s offense has been cleverly and definitively designed to become one of the league’s elite rushing offenses. They feature one of the league’s elite offensive lines, a promising group of tight ends, an effective fullback, and a dynamic group of running backs that could prove to be amongst the NFL’s best. Get excited for the 2015 Bengals fans. It should prove to be a “ground and pound” type of year, but this methodical approach to the game should help the Bengals continue to achieve the expected level of success they’ve established for themselves over the past few years, and maybe even raise the bar a bit.