The 2017 NFL Draft will be stocked with talented running backs, waiting for a chance to prove their worth. The Cincinnati Bengals need to select one.
It may be the thousandth time it’s been said, but the Bengals are going to need a running back. Though some people consider the departure of Rex Burkhead a trivial matter, the running game won’t be. With major experiments being planned for the Bengals O-Line, a top-caliber back would definitely be a plus. While the Bengals will be in decent position to grab a decent player, nothing is a given in the draft. Teams trade up and down to get what they need and hinder others from drafting talent. But, no matter what it takes, Cincy has to claim someone for the backfield.
There was a time when the Bengals could rely on the running game to be a steadying influence. I’m sure you’re asking when this mythical wrinkle in time occurred. According to stats from ESPN, it was the same year that a fresh-faced rookie (*cough* Jeremy Hill) made his debut with the Bengals. On his way to becoming a household name, he sparked the Cincinnati offense to a No. 6 ranking in 2014.
Since then, the Bengals have been mired in systematic and formulaic (predictable) running schemes that have had them in the top 20 but without much punch. If 2017 is going to be a turnaround year, the Bengals will have to shatter the norm, grab an explosive running back and get back to business. Winning in the AFC North means having a back that can be a bruiser and burner.
Yes, it’s true. The offensive line will be going through a change that could spell disaster. So, why do the Bengals want to expose a rookie back to that kind of torture? Defense’s could blow through the swiss cheese and have a field day with tackles for loss. There’s also the possibility of injuries. Suddenly, the memory of Ki-Jana Carter flooded my mind. That nightmare aside, a fresh back will be hungry. Hunger means seeing the holes that are there.
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Unfortunately, Bengals fans won’t be watching the artistry of Burkhead. That’s what made his running so refreshing. Instead of looking for holes the size of a bulldozer, he read the openings and gained yards on the second level.
When a player is able to see daylight from a split-second opening, it takes pressure off the line. In essence, the offensive musical chairs won’t have much of an effect on run production. A back with vision will give coordinator Ken Zampese and Paul Alexander time to work their magic.
Hill And Gio
There’s no reason to get nasty and curse. Giovani Bernard is a speedy change-of-pace back who has earned his place in the Bengals backfield. When he’s used correctly, he has the ability to shred a defense. But, honestly, he’s not an every-down runner. He has shown a tendency for injury. Also, he’s coming back from a nasty dance with an ACL tear. Coach Marvin Lewis says he’s recovering well. But, it’s always a different story on the field. There’s also a chance that he’ll be more tentative and cautious with his running.
Then there’s Mr. Hill. He’s definitely under pressure to get his mojo back. Since pulling the Bengals to the No. 6 spot in 2014, he hasn’t broken the 1,000-yard mark since. There’s a good argument for him playing injured and not getting the reps. But, when he does get carries, his 3.8 YPC average doesn’t send shivers through defensive lines. And with the Bengals in line shift mode, he’ll have to find his groove quick.
Drafting a new kid will push him to do what he’s capable of doing.
Saving Private Dalton
An indirect reason for a fresh face in the backfield is Andy Dalton. He’ll have enough to contend with, as defenses will be putting the moves on his new guardians. Handing Zampese a capable, hungry running back will take the pressure off Dalton. Last season, he was sacked 41 times. Without Andrew Whitworth to protect his blind side, he’ll be hearing footsteps.
Drafting the likes of D’onta Foreman, Joe Mixon or any of the talented draft choices would go a long way towards diverting pressure from Dalton.
They’re out there. If the Bengals pick them…they will come.