I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is just something about drafting running backs in the second round that the Cincinnati Bengals seem to love—almost as much as they love drafting cornerbacks in the first round, it seems.
Over the course of the past five drafts, the Bengals have used a trio of picks in the second round to rebuild their running back depth chart, starting with Giovani Bernard in 2013, whom they chose ahead of Le’Veon Bell, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers quickly added. Bernard, as much a receiving threat as he is a runner, had his 2016 season end with a torn ACL, but he is prepared to return on a limited basis at the outset of OTAs.
Last summer, Bernard signed a four-year, $16.6 million contract extension that reflected his role as a running back who shared the load in the backfield with Jeremy Hill, drafted in the second round in 2014. With the addition of Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft, the three of them will have a hard time splitting carries.
And if Bernard proves to be healthy when the regular season commences, chances are it will be Hill getting his snaps taken away after averaging just 3.7 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons, as the Bengals believe that Mixon can be a better traditional runner and is more versatile as well.
Cincinnati, of course, already signed Bernard, who is under contract for three more years, while Hill will be a free agent after this season. Still, they will probably want to get a good look at Bernard before they make any decisions on who will be carrying the ball in the future.
Last season, in 10 games, Bernard only carried the ball 97 times, rushing for 337 yards and two touchdowns. But he also caught 39 passes for 336 yards and another touchdown, which happened to come against the Steelers, if I recall correctly, in the second game of the season.
The former second-round pick has recorded 2442 rushing yards on 583 career carries with 14 rushing touchdowns, in addition to another 1671 yards through the air on 187 receptions, another six touchdowns coming that way.
He would, of course, have gotten a lot more work had the Bengals not decided to add Hill three years ago. The former LSU running back has been their workhorse back the past three seasons with 667 rushing attempts over that span.
While he has been a relatively consistent career, with 29 rushing touchdowns, he has never been much of a threat as a receiving option, and he is not generating a lot of yards on his carries, which has made his role ripe for replacement. Enter Mixon.
Of course, the progress of Bernard will also have to be monitored. If he is slow to return, then Hill will obviously still have a role to play working in tandem with their rookie runner, whom they seem likely to want to feature early on.