Sometimes a problem that an NFL team faces can have upside. For instance, having a plethora of talent at a position is bittersweet because while the options provide the team with talented options, it also forces the team to cut other talented players loose. One of these potential bittersweet opportunities with the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals is at running back.
By now, we know the cast. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the tough-nosed, built for the AFC North back that pounds the rock between the tackles. "The Law Firm" is a definite lock on this roster and is coming off of a 1,000-yard campaign in his first season with the club. Giovani Bernard is loved by the coaches--so much so that the team invested a high second-round selection in him. Though he will be a rotational guy initially, expectations are high for him to bring a new dimension to the offense.
Behind these two, the picture is hazy. In free agency, the team re-signed Cedric Peerman and Bernard Scott as additions to the group. Picks in the sixth round were used on running back in consecutive years with Daniel Herron in 2012 and Rex Burkhead this year. Herron's running style is similar to Green-Ellis', while Burkhead brings the versatility that Brian Leonard integrated in the offense the previous four years.
Given the talent level here and the Bengals roster history, we'll likely see four running backs on the final 53-man roster. With two of those four spots already locked up, which two of the remaining four will stay?
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN:
- The two backs that round out the group need to be able to contribute in the passing game. This goes beyond just being able to be a receiving option out of the backfield. One of the underrated aspects that Leonard brought to the team was his ability to be a solid last-line blocker for the quarterback--they will need players who are competent in that area as well. Advantage: Burkhead.
- These final spots must go to backs that can contribute on special teams. Be it playing a role as a gunner on punt coverage, or a rusher on field goal and/or punt units, contribution here is a must. The Bengals have had some good luck with this of late and this should continue. Advantage: Peerman and Herron.
- All four backs that they keep must be a fit in the offensive system. Gio Bernard is an obvious fit for Jay Gruden's West Coast Offense, but who else is? This system requires players that have high football I.Q. and bring versatility. Gruden was high on Scott having a big role in 2012 before he suffered two major injuries and had a say In the selecting of Burkhead and Herron. Still, it's Peerman, a non-Gruden guy, that has had quite a bit of success in multiple facets of the game. Advantage: all four.
There is a lot in play here and a lot of things can happen over the next month and a half. How healthy is Scott going to be coming off of major knee surgery in the middle of last season? Will Herron show enough to the coaches to put himself off of the Practice Squad and onto the 53-man final roster? Who will stay healthy throughout camp and preseason?
If I were asked today, I'd say that Burkhead and Peerman would be the two joining Green-Ellis and Bernard on the final roster. I see Scott being a candidate for the PUP List, allowing him to continue to rehab the knee and putting him out of use for the first six weeks of the season. With Herron only having three games played in his career, he is still eligible for the Practice Squad and that's where I see him landing.
Again, there is a lot of time to figure this out and I'm sure that this will be a major stroyline in the "Hard Knocks" series. However it plays out and whoever ends up being kept, this is sure to be one of the deepest position groups on the team.