In the second edition of our new position grades series, we’ll examine how the Cincinnati Bengals backfield performed this past season.
RB Position Grade: A+
There weren’t many positive moments for the Bengals throughout the 2018 season, but the performance from the running back room has to be something that fans can be excited about moving forward. After being selected 48th overall by Cincinnati in the 2017 draft, Joe Mixon has proven that he is one of the best up and coming backs in the league and appears to be a huge steal from that draft. The Bengals front office received their fair share of criticism for the pick because of Mixon’s off the field issues, and rightfully so, but he has cleaned up his act and is producing at an extremely high level. He managed to lead the AFC in rushing yards with 1168 despite opposing defenses keying in on him due to significant injuries to the receiving core and Andy Dalton. In my opinion, he was definitely snubbed from making the Pro Bowl and it’s hard to fathom that the conference’s leading rusher was left out. Regardless, there’s no doubt in my mind that he will make it there before his career in Cincy is over and I can’t wait to see how Zac Taylor develops him even further.
Another guy that I’m extremely excited to watch under the Zac Taylor offense is Gio Bernard. Though his numbers have fallen the last two years because of the Mixon pickup, Bernard continues to be one of the hardest working players on the team and Bengals fans should appreciate how much effort he gives no matter the circumstance. He battled an MCL sprain and missed 4 games during the 2018 season, which at times made it difficult on the offense because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. When healthy, Bernard is capable of being a key weapon for Andy Dalton and I expect that he may play a bigger role in the offense next season.
There were some moments during the season where neither Gio or Mixon could be on the field, and that allowed rookie Mark Walton the opportunity to gain some experience as the 3rd stringer. Playing in 14 games, Walton only managed to gain 34 yards on the ground and 41 through the air. I don’t expect him to be much of a contributor going forward, but there’s definitely some potential there, and we saw a few flashes of his ability in 2018. Bengals fans should keep an eye on his development in the future and it will be interesting to see if he can get some more carries in a crowded rotation next season.
Overall, I have decided to give the running backs an A+ grade for this past season. They’re clearly the most consistent and highest performing group on the team, and they’re only going to get better with the guidance of an offensively-focused staff. Joe Mixon is well on his way to being a star running back in the NFL, and hopefully, Bengals fans will have the privilege of watching him play for many years. If the front office can bring in some more talent on the offensive line, I expect this group to put up even bigger numbers in 2019 in what should be a scary offense.
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"Key players Zac Taylor Must Help Reach Their Full Potential"