Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard has been a huge asset this year. From gravity defying sprints against the Miami Dolphins, single-handedly helping Cincinnati conquer a deficit and send the Bengals into overtime, to the avoidance of aggressive tacklers with a shiftiness that is completely god-given, Bernard could be one of the best prizes that Cincinnati has acquired since A.J. Green in 2011.
Selected in the second-round of the 2013 NFL draft, Bernard quickly adjusted to the speed of the game... actually, it was the NFL that needed to adjust to Bernard. Heading into the regular season finale, Bernard has generated 1,136 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.
At this pace, he'll generate 1,212 yards from scrimmage, which would be the most by a Bengals rookie since 1997 when former second rounder Corey Dillon posted a rookie-record with 1,388 yards (1,129 yards rushing, 259 yards receiving).
And if Bernard scores two touchdowns this weekend, he'll have ten for the season. Again, it will be the most touchdowns scored by a rookie since Dillon scored ten in 1997. The Bengals rookie record for most touchdowns in a season belongs to Ickey Woods, who scored 15 in '88 (all rushing). The only other Bengals rookie to score double-digit touchdowns is running back Stan Fritts, who scored 10 in 1975.
It's unlikely that Bernard will break either record. He needs 177 yards from scrimmage to break Dillon's record of 1,388 yards from scrimmage in '97 -- Bernard's career-high at this point is 148 yards. And there's no way that Bernard will double his season-long touchdown production to break Woods' record, which might be the most unbreakable record in Cincinnati's record books.
But it only makes sense that Cincinnati plays the team with a running back that Marvin Lewis compares Bernard to.
"I think back to 2008, when (Baltimore’s) Ray Rice was a rookie," Lewis said. "Some of his runs — low to the ground with his hands down — that’s who we kind of likened Gio to as we evaluated him out of college."
"It’s always great to be compared to somebody who has the achievements of a Ray Rice," Bernard said. "But I try just to be myself, play my game without trying to pattern it after anybody. Compared to earlier this year, I think I’m a little more relaxed. You don’t want to try to force big runs. You just let ’em happen."