When Rex Burkhead sliced and diced the Ravens’ defense on New Year’s Day, Bengals fans saw a glimpse of what could have been.
The Cincinnati Bengals ended the 2016 season on a bittersweet note. A game that was supposed to be an exclamation point before the postseason turned into a showcase for 2017. The Bengals made swiss cheese out of the Ravens’ vaunted run defense. Running back Rex Burkhead got the starting nod over Jeremy Hill and proved his worth. Rex may be the tonic the Bengals have been missing.
With Hill nursing a knee injury, Burkhead was tossed into action for the Ravens battle. In his first ever start, the shifty back notched career-highs with 27 rushes, 119 yards, and two TDs. The fourth-year pro did his damage against Baltimore’s respected run defense. Finishing the year at No. 5 in the NFL, the Ravens were a stingy bunch. They allowed a measly 89.4 yards per game.
Burkhead wasted no time showing the PBS faithful what he could do. When called upon, he sliced and diced through Baltimore’s front seven with ease. Very rarely did he find himself losing yards. That’s the beauty of having Burkhead in the backfield. He keeps his legs churning for positive yardage. Hill has struggled to get things going when handed the rock. Watching the two backs perform is like night and day. Rex is quick to the hole and makes a decision. Jeremy tends to dance and look for the big hitters.
This Could Be Goodbye
As the season comes to an end, so do the chances of seeing Burkhead in a Bengals uniform next year. Unfortunately, free agency is on the horizon. After seeing his performance against the Ravens, teams will be drooling at the chance to sign him. The New Year’s Day showing wasn’t a surprise to Burkhead. He sounded confident and secure about what lies ahead, per The Cincinnati Enquirer.
"“I’m confident in my skills, I knew what I can do, (I) just needed an opportunity. For me, it came year four into the NFL, so I’ve been patiently waiting for it and just did my best out there when I got the chance.”"
While Burkhead was patiently waiting on the opportunity to flaunt his skills, the Bengals were playing musical chairs with Giovani Bernard and Hill. Now that the running ability of the seldom used back is no longer a secret, it could be too late. Quality running backs are a hot commodity in the NFL.
When four years of work is almost reached in one game, other teams will definitely notice. Since being drafted by the Bengals, Burkhead has 60 carries and 256 rushing yards. Due to the love affair with Hill and Bernard, Burkhead was lost in the numbers. Most of his playing time came on special teams and fill-in duty for the featured backs. Suddenly, there seems to be a glitch in the machine. Why hasn’t this secret weapon been used?
This hurts. It feels like the last day of school and your friend is going to leave the country. Maybe there’s a chance he’s coming back. But, the odds are stacked against it. The Bengals are staring at another offseason full of important free agency issues. Before Burkhead can be signed, there are major pieces of the puzzle that have to be addressed.
Rex likes it in The Queen City. He’d like to be in Stripes for another year but Hill and Bernard are under contract already. Andrew Whitworth politely summed it up. This won’t be an easy decision for Bengals brass.
"“He proved today, man, he can run the football. I’d take him as a No. 1 any day of the week. I don’t think there’s too many teams where he wouldn’t fit. He runs the ball well. He’s got great agility. He’s got eyes, he’s got it all. The whole team has wanted him to get his opportunity and see what he does. Especially the defensive players because they know what Rex used to do to them. He’s a talented kid.”"
It would be good to see Rex in Stripes next year. One can only hope.