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Signing Benson a Step in the Right Direction but More Help Needed

Signing Cedric Benson to a two-year $7 million deal was a good move for the Bengals.  The signing answered all those delusional souls who bombarded the Jungle and WLW with the thought that the Bengals should have designated Cedric Benson as their franchise player instead of Shayne Graham.  By playing it smart, the Bengals re-signed Benson for about half of the $6.62 million annual salary he would have received as the franchise player. 

That said, the Bengals will need even more help at running back.  As I wrote on February 18th, in ranking running backs with over 100 carries, the Football Outsider ranks Benson as the 46th most productive running back out of 49.  Incidentally, Chris Perry ranked dead last, coming in 49th out of 49.

Looking more closely at Benson's 2008 production, he carried the ball 214 times for 747 yards and two touchdowns.  He averaged 3.5 yards a carry.  However, over half of his yards last season were gained in five games against 4 really bad teams: 2 games vs. Cleveland (38/171/0), Kansas City (25/111/1), Washington (21/73/0), and Jacksonville (24/101/1).  Is it possible that Benson could continue to perform like he did in December, averaging 4.1 yards per carry?  Perhaps, but not likely.  His career average is 3.7 yards per carry.  Can he carry the load for a team over the course of a season?  We don't really know.  Prior to last season, he had never carried the ball more than 200 times or gained over 700 yards. 

The bottom line is that this is a good, low-risk signing.  Maybe Benson will finally reach his potential and become a top running back.   Maybe not.  As the Bengals have not yet made a move in free agency and lost top lineman Stacy Andrews, it is uncertain whether Benson will receive better blocking next season.

In any case, the Bengals should continue to look for help on the offensive line and at running back.  After solidifying the OL in the first two rounds, perhaps they can draft UConn's Donald Brown in the third round.