When running back Brian Leonard signed a one-year contract worth $715,000 on April 1, the Cincinnati Bengals found themselves needing a replacement. Keep in mind that Leonard was a running back by name, but not so much description. Sure a few runs here and there, an impressive highlight leap over an unsuspecting defender mixed in the middle, Leonard's greatest contributions were mostly special teams and as a blocker in the backfield.
That specific need, "the Brian Leonard position" that easily describes the roles he managed, accelerated into capitulation after Cincinnati selected Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead in the sixth round. In four years with Nebraska and 30 touchdowns, Burkhead generated 3,332 yards rushing on 635 carries. During his junior season in 2011, he posted career-highs in yards rushing (1,357) with 15 rushing touchdowns. Additionally Burkhead's 507 yards receiving on 60 receptions (and five scores) suggests decent competency out of the backfield.
Let's call him the Leonard upgrade.
Burkhead's final game with Nebraska actually came against Shawn Williams' Georgia during the Capital One Bowl. Burkhead rushed for 140 yards and scored two touchdowns while Williams blocked a first quarter punt to score a safety. Georgia won 45-31.
So what are the Bengals getting with Burkhead?
"As a runner Burkhead is hard to bring down," writes SB Nation's well-known Nebraska website Cornnation. "He's rarely stopped at the point of contact and never stops fighting for yards. Running inside or outside the tackles is no problem. His vision and speed hitting the hole are his biggest strength. Burkhead is not one to dance around behind the line of scrimmage. If there is a hole, he hits it quickly, if there isn't one he then tries to run through whoever is in the way."
Unlikely to fight through BenJarvus Green-Ellis and second-round selection Bernard Giovani, Burkhead is destined for special teams alongside Cedric Peerman; though a competition battle with Dan Herron appears likely -- Burkhead will likely win. Burkhead was also the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion in 2012, a non-profit organization designed to help promote awareness and raise funds for charities.
Burkhead missed several games last season while dealing with an MCL sprain, which didn't affect his NFL Combine results. He was one of the top performers in the vertical jump, three-cone drill, broad jump, 20-yard and 60-yard shuttle.
This kid can ball.
Let me amend one parting note. The Bengals didn't just find their Brian Leonard replacement. They've actually found his upgrade.