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Giovani Bernard will be Elite Fantasy Football Running Back

Andy Lyons

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina last year in order to give the offense a change-of-pace back who could provide an added dimension. He did that and then some, but before the team would trust him to get significant touches, he had to improve his toughness.

But Bernard didn't back down from the challenge, and he eventually became the lead back for an 11-win Bengals squad.

Gio also become one of the league's best dual-purpose backs, rushing for 695 yards and catching 56 passes for another 512 and was a finalist for the NFL Rookie of the Year award.

But he did so on just 226 touches, and with Jeremy Hill now in the fold, his touches may not jump dramatically like was  was originally believed.

New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has stated he wants to put the ball in Gio's hands more, but spending a second-round pick on Hill suggests the Bengals want to go with more of a committee approach.

That makes Bernard a risky proposition when it comes to fantasy football. But even in today's pass-happy NFL, RBs still have a lot of value in fantasy football. What helps Bernard is that he's a great pass-catcher, and Cincinnati may use him in the slot more in 2014.

Rich Winter of Panic Button analyzed why Gio will in fact be a top-10 fantasy football back this year.

With Bernard's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, I think this cat deserves some serious attention as a No. 1 RB for your fantasy roster. If you get him as you're No. 2, just go ahead and pencil yourself into the playoffs of your league.

You have to think the rushing numbers get up over 1000 and the receiving numbers might hit 700. With the increased touches, his TD's are likely to go up from eight combined last season.

That friends, puts this guy in elite fantasy RB territory.

Grab him in the third round if he's still around and when you do, tell everyone in your league they are a moron for passing on this guy.

Fantasy Pros also believes Bernard will be one of the best fantasy backs. They ranked him as the 18th-overall fantasy player, as well as the 11th-ranked RB, putting him in mid-RB1 value.

I'm not quite ready to call Bernard an RB1 yet, but he's definitely an intriguing option with as much upside as any RB this year not named LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles or Adrian Peterson. But he still has to find his role in Hue's new offense, and just how often and it what ways the Bengals will put the ball in his hands.

Most of the mock drafts I've ran to this point (12-team standard leagues), Bernard tends to go off the board in the mid-to-late part of the second round, and I've gotten him as my second RB on occasion.

In the end, he'll become an elite RB in terms of fantasy football eventually. It just might no be as soon as the 2014 NFL season opens.