With the 2012 combine coming to an end today, we have finally been able to get a decent look at the talent in this years draft and see who the Bengals might decide to pursue with their three picks in the first two rounds in the draft. The Bengals need help at the running back position with the likely loss of Cedric Benson and, in a recent interview, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is realizing that the RB pool in this draft is the deepest it's been in years.
"I think the back class is very, very good this year and I wouldn't be surprised if we walk out of here with a pretty darn good back," Gruden said.
While Trent Richardson sits at the top of the class for running backs this year, the rest are not too far behind. Players like Lamar Miller, Chris Polk, David Wilson, and Robert Turbin were able to turn some heads because of their speed, agility, and strength (particularly Turbin who put up 225 lbs 28 times). The question for the Bengals is not whether they come out of the draft with a running back, because that is inevitable (at least from every fan's perspective), but who they end up drafting.
Out of the RB's the Bengals have (Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, and Cedric Peerman), Scott is the most likely to take over for Benson because of his experience and lack of a better option. Leonard is a third down back who can get the first from any distance and Peerman is a good back-up but his significance comes from his contributions on special teams. The above statement about Scott was painful to write; to think of Bernard Scott as our starting running back makes me want to punch a kitten. Gruden seems to agree with me because, even though Scott is a talented player, he is not a no. 1 back in the NFL...but he can be a good part of a running-back-by-committee game plan.
It's not a bad way to go. Keep guys fresh. They play longer, they're involved," Gruden said of the committee concept. "If something happens to one, you know you've got a guy that can come in there and be productive. Where you're not relying heavily on one guy and if something happens to him, you’re like, 'Oh God, this guy doesn't have many reps.'
Running back-by-committee has been a very popular game plan over the past few years by many teams and it has been very effective. Most notably, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were a significant part of the Giants championship run and victory over the Patriots in the Superbowl. There are many other examples of these committees: Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews, and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to name only a few. Many of these teams have had success in the NFL because their running back is always fresh and is going up against a tired defensive front. If you have two backs that are talented (see Arian Foster and Ben Tate), it could be very bad for a defense (see Texans/Bengals Wild Card game in the second half).
The Bengals have always had a single running back take most of the carries (Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson, Cedric Benson), but in the AFC North, a run-heavy division, a committee running attack might be the next step the Bengals could take to moving up in the AFC North hierarchy. The only question is who could the Bengals bring in to fill the roster holes in the backfield or who could step up and be the second, or third, back in the committee?
What happens in free agency will directly affect how the Bengals draft. This is not new information, but it is important to remember because if the Bengals pick up Michael Bush or Ben Tate in free agency, then they could use a later pick to get a young RB like Wilson or Polk to fill in the rest of the committee. Ideally, Bernard Scott or Brian Leonard will develop into a solid no. 2 and the Bengals will only need to bring in one RB this year and use the extra money/draft picks on other needs (OG, CB, or WR), but this is more of a pipe dream than anything because Leonard is in his sixth year and Scott is in his fourth and they have yet to become spotlight backs for the Bengals (outside of Scott starting when Benson was out against Oakland two years ago and he had a 119 yard game and rushing for 76 yards against the Seahawks in 2011) and, because of this, the committee style will be welcomed by many in Cincinnati.
You can never have too many athletes on a team and the Bengals will be looking to test this hypothesis next year if they go to the committee running attack. Two good running backs, two (assuming we sign a free agent like Garcon or Manningham and not Antonion Bryant, again) good wide recievers, two pass-catching tight ends (Gresham AND Lee), and a Pro Bowl quarterback WITH AN ENTIRE OFF-SEASON should be a very exciting thought for Bengals fans everywhere. Add to that a solid offensive line if we upgrade at guard, either through the draft or free agency, and that could be the foundation for a run deep into the playoffs in 2012.