Let's just say it as best we can. If you're a college running back heading into the NFL and the Bengals call your name by the second round, start freaking out. Run to the mailbox, open the door, scream really loud (and put postage on the scream to CincyJungle.com so we can totally YouTube it) and then rejoin your family for the great honor of playing for Mike Brown.
The team's running back situation is as murky as the muddy banks of the Little Miami river right now. Cedric Benson is a free agent who appeared be on the down-side of his NFL career last season; though the offensive line hardly demanded complimentary remarks. Benson is also reaching an age in which good running backs suddenly become average, if not mediocre. In three seasons with the Bengals, Benson has already accrued 836 rushing attempts. And this comes during an offseason in which Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden want to focus on the power rushing game. Even if the Bengals keep Benson, they possibly could need another power running back to give him a spell.
Then there's Bernard Scott. While one would be foolish not to hope that the team utilizes his athleticism, there's far too many questions about his durability. Yes, he ran the football 39 times in a two game stretch in 2009, recording 206 yards rushing. He then missed the next three games with a toe injury. Though it was encouraging to see him rush the football 34 times in the final five games in 2010, averaging 5.3 yards/rush. But really. Ask yourself this: Would you prefer Scott to be a workhorse, or a change-of-pace back that could burn a worn out defense? Regardless, Until he can prove that he's able to withstand a season in which he carries the football 250-300 times, the Bengals can't just sit on their hands and promote Scott. They'll be looking for another running back by midseason.
So the team could look at the NFL Draft. Though, as we said, based on history, if they draft a running back by the second round, be weary.
The team has only drafted two running backs in the first two rounds since Corey Dillon was selected in the second round in 1997 and Ki-Jana Carter before him, in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft. In his first career preseason game, Auburn running back Kenny Irons, drafted in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, recorded 17 yards on four carries. The fourth carry would be his last in the NFL. After tearing his ACL, Irons went on IR in 2007 and was subsequently waived from PUP before the start of the 2008 season. This was before the team released Rudi Johnson and made the horrible mistake on relying on Chris Perry. Speaking of which...
Then there's Chris Perry. Drafted in the first round, Perry is unfortunately known as the running back that the Bengals decided to take when they were in a position to draft Steven Jackson before making a trade with the St. Louis Rams. Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. The Bengals actually swapped first round picks with the Denver Broncos for cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who would go on to have a Pro Bowl season in 2006. St. Louis then traded with the Denver Broncos to pick up Jackson while the Bengals, who just traded Corey Dillon away, selected Chris Perry.
Unlike Irons, Perry's injuries in 2004 and 2006 sidelined him, playing in only eight games and recording 12 rushing attempts between the two seasons. And unlike Irons, Perry actually had a really good year in 2005, backing up Rudi Johnson as a third down back. With 51 receptions (which was five shy of James Brooks' franchise mark for a running back), Perry finished the season with 607 yards from scrimmage. In 2008, the Bengals promoted him as a starting running back and it couldn't have gone worse. Along with injuries simply taking their toll on his body, Perry lost most of his acceleration and elusiveness and had no power behind his legs. Perry would eventually be sidelined after a 2.6 yard/rush average with three lost fumbles through the first five games. Benson was signed off the streets, eventually replacing Perry.
Neither Perry or Irons have returned to the NFL after their last games with the Cincinnati Bengals. If you're a running back and you hear your name called by the Bengals by the second round, be afraid. Be very, very afraid.