Sure, it sounds absurd on the surface – and maybe it is. But if it’s not outlandish, then it’s not really a "bold" prediction.
It was not too long ago when Giovani Bernard was everybody’s favorite minivan-driving rookie running back. After watching plodding running backs like Cedric Benson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis for half a decade, many Bengals fans were excited to finally have a dynamic playmaker taking the lead role in the backfield.
But a slow start by Giovani Bernard last season, coupled by an injury that led to rookie Jeremy Hill taking off fast, shifted that excitement from Bernard to Hill. After the first three weeks of the 2014 season Bernard was only averaging 3.4 yards per carry, compared to 5.1 for Hill. Hill continued to dominate, especially after he got the bulk of touches down the stretch. Hill did so well that he led the entire NFL in rushing yardage over the second half of the 2014 season.
By the end of last season, Giovani Bernard became something of an afterthought, as fans reveled in the dominating performances of Jeremy Hill.
Giovani Bernard averaged 3.4 yards per carry or less in 64 percent of the games he played in.
Jeremy Hill averaged 3.4 yards per carry or less in only 24 percent of the games he played in.
Giovani Bernard averaged 2.8 yards per carry or less in 43 percent of the games he played in. Jeremy Hill averaged 2.8 yards per carry or less in only 18 percent of the games he played in (and none after week eight).
Taking all of this into consideration, what case could we possibly present in defense of the bold prediction that Bernard will outperform Hill during the 2015 NFL season?
Anybody can look at the statistics from last season and see Hill cranked out more than 1,100 rushing yards, while Bernard puttered along with just more than half of that. But what is often overlooked is Bernard had nearly twice as many receiving yards, while missing three games to injury.
Taking their total yards for the 2015 season (including playoffs), and averaging it during the span of 16 games, we see Jeremy Hill would have compiled 1,304 total yards, with Giovani Bernard just behind him with 1,235 total yards.
Last year Hill not only cranked out over 1,100 rushing yards, but also cranked out nine rushing touchdowns. By contrast, Bernard only had five rushing touchdowns. Those totals look pretty lopsided in favor of Hill, and they are. But two factors need to be considered – receiving touchdowns and Bernard’s missed games.
When you add Bernard’s two receiving touchdowns, he ends up with seven total touchdowns. Also, Bernard got these seven total touchdowns in only 13 games. Over a full 16 game schedule, Bernard’s touchdown total from last year would have projected to 8.6 touchdowns. That is pretty close to the 9 touchdowns Hill produced.
MARVIN LEWIS’ COMMITMENT TO HIS PLAYERS
Even after Hill began to emerge as a stud running back, the Bengals continued to give Bernard a decent share of the load. Despite Hill’s 154 yard outburst against the Jaguars, and his 152 yard beat down against the Saints a couple weeks later, once Bernard returned from injury, he did not vanish from the running game, but received 43 percent of the rushes.
It was only in the final two weeks of the season when Bernard saw his rushes significantly reduced. And it could be argued this was primarily because his receptions were increased at this time in response to the continued decimation of the Bengals’ wide receivers and tight ends, and not because he was being replaced in the running game.
When you look at total yards, total touchdowns, and account for the few games Bernard missed last year, the production (yards and touchdowns) from Bernard were actually on par with Hill’s output – which we often forget.
Heading into 2015, with both running backs healthy and in the same offense, we can reasonably assume the two of them will again have similar total outputs, especially with Hill talking about a "balance" that will exist between the two of them.
When you have a pair of running backs slated for equal production, all it takes is a small thing (an injury here, a long run there, etc...) for one running back to pass the other. And while we all assume it will be Hill passing Bernard, it could just as easily be Bernard passing Hill.
So what do you think of this bold prediction? Does Bernard have any chance of outperforming Hill in 2015, or is this bold prediction just a bit too bold?