When the Bengals chose not to re-sign Cedric Benson after the 2011 season, and his third straight 1,000-yard season, they needed a new running back to help usher in the new age of Bengals football. That new back ended up being former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis came to Cincinnati with only one 1,000-yard season, but was known as a tough running who picks up first downs on short-yardage plays and had a nose for the end zone. He was also known as a great locker room presence.
His first season with the Bengals would likely be called a success by most Bengals fans. Green-Ellis rushed for 1,094 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. He also had seven carries for over 20 yards, which was a career high for him.
While The Law Firm played well enough to start for the Bengals in 2013 at running back, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden still wants the Bengals to look to the draft to bring another running back to Cincinnati that can be a game changer with breakaway speed.
While Gruden loves what running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has given them in short-yardage and red zone, he says they could use a "game-changer, speed," at the position and pointed to the draft.
The Bengals had planned on using a two-back system with Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott, but Scott only rushed the ball eight times this season before he was placed on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL after being plagued with injuries to his hand and ankle in the preseason and the first couple weeks of the regular season. Scott has the kind of speed that Gruden may be talking about, but he has had durability issues since he was drafted by the Bengals in 2008.
Scott will also be a free agent this offseason and the Bengals may look to replace him with a change-of-pace back that is more durable on the field. Again, they could re-sign him for insurance purposes while still bringing in a new running back.
The Bengals have three picks over the first two round (Thanks, Raiders!) and could easily use one of those three picks on a running back to help break games open. If the Bengals do use one of their first three picks on a new back, our own Joe Goodberry believes it will either be Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina, Andre Ellington out of Clemson or Joseph Randle out of Oklahoma State.
Goodberry on Ellington:
He has a Jamaal Charles frame but runs like Chris Johnson. He's not as fast as them, but he's close. What will surprise you, is his balance, power and pass protection for being a thinner back. He keeps his legs pumping and he can be very creative when making guys miss. Excellent in the passing game only makes me like him more.
He reminds me of Cowboys tailback DeMarco Murray because he's taller than average, runs a little upright, appears to be thin, but he packs a load when defenders underestimate him. He isn't very shifty or creative for being one of the faster backs in the draft, but I really like his upside as a guy you can eventually lean on without giving up the home run ability.
and on Bernard:
Gio shows every ability I hold in high regard and that's why he's currently my top running back. He's quick, low to the ground, has good speed and will make defenders take themselves out of position before Bernard even reaches the 2nd level. His work pre-line-of-scrimmage is the best I've seen in my short time. It's very Arian Foster-like how he can set the LBs up and cut back against the grain. He's one of those backs I believe sees the game in slow-motion. He's caught my eye and captured my heart the way Doug Martin did last year. He's a late 1st round pick to me.
The Bengals could easily end up with one of these running backs if they decide to use an early pick on the position, but they could also wait if they're high on another back in the later rounds. They could also look to free agency for a running back as well.
Thanks to Joe Goodberry for helping with this article on the spot.