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.
What they got was a future star that they plan to feature more in 2014. Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer believes Bernard will finish the 2014 NFL season with 300 total touches on offense.
His ability won't be new this year and much talk early will revolve around new offensive toy Hill. But this team will feature Bernard early and often. His expansion as a receiver will only help create a scenario where he can crack 70 receptions and 230 carries for 300-plus total touches. Buckle up.
That jives with what new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has said about Bernard, who he fell in love with during training camp last year because of his heart and drive.
"He wanted more of it," Jackson said earlier this offseason. "It was me who was trying to get those guys to pull up because we didn't want to get anybody hurt. But that's the beautiful part of it, in my mind. That was like them saying, 'OK, you're here and you're supposed to help us win? Let's find out.'
"And he passed the test."
"I remember those guys on defense coming up to me one day in stretch. There was Rey Maualuga, we're talking about Vontaze Burfict, and even some of the defensive linemen. They were all saying, 'Hey, Coach. That guy can play.'
Bernard 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.
He did so on just 226 touches, and like Dehner said, Jackson also see Bernard getting more touches this year.
"He's going to have a lot," Jackson said, smiling. "I can promise you."
With Jeremy Hill and potentially BenJarvus Green-Ellis also on the roster, Bernard won't get enough carries to justify being an RB1 or even 2.
It's his receiving ability that will make him top-tier fantasy option and a guy that should be gone in the 2nd round of standard scoring leagues. Bernard should go in the 1st round of PPR leagues. Only seven backs had more catches than Bernard in 2013, and four of them (Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Knowshon Moreno) had at least 97 more offensive snaps than Bernard.