Which Bengals’ RB Should Be Active on Game Days?


Jun 16, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead (33) carries the ball during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next month, the Cincinnati Bengals will have to parse through their litany of running backs and decide which players to employ for the 2015 season.  The Bengals have collected several promising players at the position in recent years.  Their running backs consist of seven backs (seven if you include FB/HB Ryan Hewitt): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman, James Wilder, Jr, Terrell Watson and Mark Weisman.

Jun 16, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Peerman (30) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In past years, the Bengals have chosen to keep four running backs on the 53-man roster and generally another back on the practice squad.  Wilder, Watson and Weisman will presumably battle for a practice squad spot.  The team isn’t likely to keep a second evidenced by their choice to train both Wilder and Weisman as fullbacks over the offseason (Weisman is listed as a fullback on the team’s website).  This leaves Hill, Bernard, Burkhead and Peerman as virtual roster locks, and deservedly so.

Cincinnati typically activates only three of these backs on game days; teams can only carry 46 players on game day rosters.  Hill and Bernard are game locks, as both players function as significant cogs within the offense.  This leaves what has become the age-old debate between Burkhead and Peerman.

Each player offers a differing skill set, yet both are vital on game days.  With Burkhead, the Bengals get a player who is a more accomplished and versatile offensive weapon. Burkhead has clearly established himself as more than simply a running back following his performance last year during the team’s playoff game against the Colts.  During this game, the third-year running back lined up as a running back, tight end and wide receiver.  The team has recognized his versatility and has been “dabbling” with him at wide receiver.

Yet Burkhead also offers promise when playing a special teams, a must for largely any reserve player on an NFL roster.  When given the opportunity, Burkhead has come up with big plays such as his blocked punt against the Jaguars last year.  Although his opportunities have been limited, Burkhead has consistently made the best of his chances and offers both ability and promise in both phases of the game.

Cedric Peerman’s skill set largely lies within his special teams prowess.  Turning 29 years old this season (for reference, Burkhead is 25), his NFL career has been made on his ability to lead a special teams unit; Peerman has been the special teams captain for a few years now.  He consistently makes plays and led the unit in tackles in 2014.  As for his offensive prowess, Peerman has never been utilized extensively in this facet of the game, which can only be taken as an indictment against his offensive abilities.

When comparing these two players the Bengals must consider what they feel their team needs most.  Due to their focus on running the ball, the Bengals may want to keep the more capable running back (Burkhead) who is also versatile enough to make plays all over the field.  Burkhead also mitigates the “loss” the team would experience on special teams, if Peerman were to remain inactive on game days, by offering promise on special teams.  He’s also the younger of the two players.  If the Bengals feel the special teams unit is lacking, then Peerman is the better “win now” option for the unit, though it would cost the offense some flexibility and depth.

For the past couple of seasons the Bengals have chosen to employ Cedric Peerman on game days while Burkhead was left waiting for his opportunity to make an impact.  This year, the Bengals proved their loyalty to Peerman by re-signing him to a two-year deal, which is cited by many fans as the reason that he will win this battle.  But with Burkhead consistently making an impact while offering substantially more ability and versatility on offense, and promise on special teams, 2015 could be the season where the team finally takes an in-depth look at their third-year running back and identifies exactly what he brings to the table.

Next: Blocking Must Be A Priority for Running Backs