The 2013 NFL Draft is in the books. By the looks of it, the Bengals strung together yet another solid class, coming up with a nice combination of future foresight and addressing immediate needs. As it currently stands, the Bengals have gained a consensus grade range of about a "B-plus" to an "A-minus" for their efforts last weekend.
Shortly after the Bengals draft class rounded itself out, our own Joe Goodberry posed an interesting question/statement on Twitter about the utilization of new second-round running back, Giovani Bernard:
While I don't disagree with Goodberry's initial assessment, there's more here than meets the eye. On the surface, one may have initially guessed that the breakdown of carries might look like 60 percent to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 25 to 30 percent to Bernard and the remaining 10 to 15 percent would be going to the other backs behind them. Not to put words into Goodberry's mouth, but it sounds as if he could see the distribution between Green-Ellis and Bernard flip-flopped, if not at least evenly distributed.
It's not a crazy thought, either. The pick that the Bengals used on Bernard, No.37 overall, fringes on being a first round pick (thanks once again to the Oakland Raiders) and that is usually a player that teams like to rely on as a starter or heavy role player. There's no doubt that the Bengals will be leaning on Bernard this year, it's just a matter of if it will be more of a third down type of role or a heavy-reliant, starter-type of role.
Some wonder if Bernard's size allows him to be an every-down back. At 5'8"-ish and just over 200 pounds, he isn't exactly a load between the tackles. But, that's not what the Bengals brought him to Cincinnati for. They wanted a back with some speed, wiggle and good hands--Bernard brings all of that to the offense.
There is a scenario that I can see playing out where the Bengals trot Bernard out on first and second down to utilize in running plays and/or dump-off passes to move the sticks and/or make third downs manageable. Then, on third and short, the Bengals could bring out the hammer in Green-Ellis, who has a nose for converting short-yardage situations. In truth, this is likely the ideal situation for the Bengals offense.
Conversely, there is another nice scenario that could play out with Green-Ellis getting the majority of the carries. As the team's power back, "The Law Firm" could wear down defenses with his hard running style and when the opponent is a bit worn down, the Bengals could bring in Bernard to gash them with a run or a swing pass. One could call this the "Thunder and Lightning approach".
Unfortunately, I don't see that first scenario playing out--at least not early on. The coaching staff has shown a reluctance to trust some rookies with big roles right away. Though offensive guard Kevin Zeitler was a "plug-and-play" rookie last year, the team wasn't going to rely on Dre Kirkpatrick as an immediate starter, even if he was healthy. There are a long line of youngsters that have had to wait their respective turns, be it Carlos Dunlap, Devon Still or whoever else. Again, I don't see Bernard as a guy that they'll have sit and watch, but given the team's track record I could see them pulling the reigns in.
The other thing that the staff will have to observe is Bernard's ability to adjust to the pro game. Though they have done extensive workouts and reviewing of his tape, there is still a bit of an unknown as to the successful translation. Most of us (myself included) believe that Bernard won't have trouble adjusting, but he still has to showcase his skill set against pro talent.
Really, I can summarize what I see happening with Bernard and the Bengals this year. I see the team initially using the "Thunder and Lightning approach" through the first part of the year to get a feel for Bernard and what he can do out on the field. If he proves to be successful, I then believe that you'll see an increased role for him and then perhaps an eventual overtaking of carries and the starting position.
We know the Bengals love this kid, otherwise they wouldn't have made him the first running back off of the board in the 2013 draft. I don't disagree with Goodberry in that Bernard appears to be NFL-starter ready, I just think that the Bengals will practice cautious optimism with him early on.