Since the departure of Corey Dillon, the Bengals haven't gotten much out of their running backs in the passing phase of the game.
Receiving by running backs was a small part of former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's offense. Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson didn't have a knack for it. More recently, Bernard Scott hasn't had much success catching the football, while Brian Leonard has taken his third-down skillset to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Current Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden came to Cincinnati with a supposed West Coast Offense, but it didn't involve any more passing to running backs than in years past. Bengals starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished with only 22 receptions this season. He was targeted 26 times, which was ranked 39th amongest all running backs. In fact, as ESPN blogger Jamison Hensley pointed out recently, the Bengals targeted running backs 50 times last year, which was third-fewest in the entire league.
That alarming statistic goes against a central tenet of the West Coast Offense, using more high-percentage short passes and less carries.
If the Bengals should seek to fix this problem. It will add another element to the offense and make things a little easier for quarterback Andy Dalton. They could either see what's left in free agency (Ahmad Bradshaw, Felix Jones), or look to the draft, where many pass-catching backs are emerging.
Below is a table of twelve running backs in this year's class. The top consensus backs have been listed, as well as the top backs in the receiving game.
|Name||Career Carries||Career Receptions||'12 Receptions||Years Experience|
Gio Bernard is viewed as the top pass-catcher in this class, and his 92 receptions over the past two years back up that statement. The Bengals interest in Bernard has been well documented, including sending Marvin Lewis to the UNC Pro Day. Andre Ellington didn't finish with many catches this year, but his average yards per catch (16.6) makes up for it. Ellington's tenacity in pass protection is also why he is listed so high.
Marcus Lattimore, Jonathan Franklin, and Joseph Randle were all superb in the receiving category in 2012, though Franklin hadn't done much before that. Stepfan Taylor caught a lot of balls in college, but didn't particularly specialize in doing it. Dennis Johnson projects well as a third down back, if he can fix his fumbling issues. Kenjon Barner looks great as a wide receiver, but can't do much as a pass protector. Latavius Murray of Central Florida grades very well in the passing game categories, and is a bit of a late round sleeper.
The first nine players in the table are regarded as pass-catching backs. The last three (Ball, Lacy, and Michael) are all regarded as potential early round picks, but grade out as average in the passing game.
Who do you want?