Even though the Bengals sealed Cedric Benson on a two-year deal (which in our estimation is a one-year deal with a 2010 option), there's a likelihood that the team will have to acquire at least one more running back; likely through the draft.
Cedric Benson. The Bengals feature back will resume a successor role after Rudi Johnson's painful downgrade where he went from franchise setter (2005), to revised lean body (2006), to a shell (2007-plus).
If you take Benson's 2008 numbers, span them over a 16-game season, they would look like this.
|Actual (12 games)||214||747||2|
|Projection (16 games)||285||966||3|
Are these numbers fair? No. During a three-game stretch against the Steelers, Ravens and Colts, the Bengals were outscored by 80 points (96-16), which limited Benson to 42 carries. In games the Bengals won (or tied), he was integral. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Benson became the team's first 100-yard rusher, carrying the ball 24 times. Against the Eagles, he rushed 23 times. Against the Redskins (21), Browns (38) and Chiefs (25), Benson rushed over 20 times and the Bengals scored wins. In fact, when Benson rushes 20 times or more, Cincinnati is an undefeated 4-0-1.
Is Benson the answer at running back? Is he the feature back for successive seasons after this one? I'm not sure, but he's certainly not the problem. At the same time, even though he has a two-year deal in place that he signed last week, the Bengals could (not are) still be scouting the draft for the team's primary feature back.
Kenny Watson. In 2007, when Rudi Johnson began suffering injuries, Watson took the mantel of feature back, rushing 178 times for 763 yards rushing, averaging 4.3 yards-per-rush and recording seven touchdowns. Watson became injury consumed in 2008; suffering a hamstring injury in practice late September, missed the game that week, waived afterwards and then re-signed after another week. Then, he suffered another hamstring injury late in the season. Primarily noted as a third-down (75 receptions between 2006 and 2007), Watson is a trusted blocking back on passing downs. In 2008, he rushed 13 time for 55 yards. I'd project Watson's role will be simpler; blocking back, third down rusher during third-and-long draw plays and a hot receiver out of the backfield.
Chris Perry. Kenny Irons is probably the most disappointing running back that Marvin Lewis and company drafted since 2003. However, the similarities are vastly different. Whereas Irons' career (at least in Cincinnati) was destroyed before his first career regular season snap, Perry began his career with injuries -- deserved of the early nickname, two-carry Perry. Finally, Perry began 2008 as the team's starting feature back. Oh boy.
After starting the team's first six games, rushing 96 times for 253 yards (2.6 yards per rush, 42 yards rushing per game), Perry was finally benched for Benson, partly also due to Perry's five fumbles in four games (three of them lost). After that, Perry only had eight rush attempts for 17 yards. In a bit of irony, Perry never recorded a rush attempt in any of the Bengals victories in 2008.
Even though the roster includes DeDe Dorsey and James Johnson, there's really not much to say about them. Dorsey is a mix of speed and parameter while Johnson is relatively an unknown; both of whom would be competing for the last spot on the team's depth chart (if they keep four) -- or in Johnson's case, the practice squad.
All that said, the Bengals will have to go into the draft looking for a feature back. Should he be a speed, scat back, or a power back? The running back roster will likely look like, Benson, drafted running back, Watson and a fullback.