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Fantasy Football: Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard lead crowded Bengals backfield

How do Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard project in terms of fantasy football? Not as great as you may think.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In just two years, the Bengals went from having about as average of a backfield as you'll find to now sporting what may be the best group of running backs in football.

Gone are the days of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Benson lugging out 3-4 yard carries. Now, Cincinnati has two backs who could break a 50+ yard run at any moment. Here's a look at what to expect from the Bengals’ backfield in 2015 from a fantasy football perspective.

Thunder and Lightning

The Bengals have arguably the best 1-2 punch in football with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Bernard has quietly become one of the best two-way backs there is during the course of the past two years. His 99 catches in his first two NFL seasons are the sixth-most of any RB since 2013.

It does however reinforce the belief that the Bengals want to use Bernard as more of a third-down scatback. That's not a knock on Bernard though. He thrives in that role so much so that he makes as much of an impact there as a lot of No. 1 RBs do.

It's also worth noting Bernard's production as a receiver increased once Hill became a more featured weapon last year. In Bernard's first nine games in 2014, he averaged a mere 2.7 receptions per game. Over his final five games (including the playoffs), Bernard averaged 5.2 receptions per game. Bernard also averaged 8.9 carries over that span, so it's not like he's only relegated to catching passes.

It does however, reinforce the belief that the Bengals want to use Bernard as more of a third-down scatback. That's not a knock on Bernard though. He thrives in the role so much so that he makes as much of an impact there as a lot of No. 1 RBs.

That said, Hill showed he's not only the No. 1 RB in Cincinnati as a rookie, but one of the top backs in football. He gashed opposing defenses during his final nine games of the regular season, posting 929 yards (105 more than any other player) and 5.4 yards per carry (also the highest during that stretch). That included three runs of at least 60 yards. He's only 22-years-old and should only improve significantly in 2015.

Over his final seven games of 2014, Hill was given an average of 21 touches per game (19 runs, two catches). That fits well with Bernard and his 14 touches per game (8.9 runs, 5.2 catches) over that span. The Bengals want to put the ball in the hands of their RBs more than anyone else, including the QB.

Expect Cincinnati to use a similar split this year, which is good news for both Bernard and Hill's FF prospects.

Sexy Rexy waiting in wings

If either one of Hill or Bernard were to get injured, that could make third-string RB Rex Burkhead a viable FF option. Burkhead had a three-game stretch last year in which he caught seven passes for 49 yards, but ran for just 13 yards on six attempts. He showed flashes of being a capable pass-catcher coming out of the backfield in a similar way as Bernard, but not nearly enough that he should be on your FF radar heading into 2015.

Bengals appear ready to get him on the field more frequently as a pass-catcher.

That brutal schedule

If you read our FF preview on QBs, you'd know the Bengals face a brutal schedule this year in terms of points allowed to QBs. It's even scarier when looking at how good the run defenses are Cincinnati matches up against.

The Bengals face the No. 1 (Ravens, twice), No. 3 (Seahawks), No. 4 (Cardinals), No. 5 (49ers), No. 6 (Bills), No. 9 (Rams), No. 10 (Broncos) and No. 11 (Chiefs) defenses in terms of points allowed by opposing RBs. They also face a Texans D that allowed the fewest points to opposing RBs during the final five weeks of last season.

Needless to say, holy crap, that's brutal. It's also likely going to be the toughest schedule any RB faces this year, and that's certainly going to affect the impact Hill and Bernard have in 2015 after having an easier schedule in 2014. The duo played eight games against the 12 worst defenses vs. RBs last year, which may have inflated their numbers a bit.

Final Ruling

Given a more favorable schedule, Hill would be a borderline first-round prospect in most standard scoring leagues while Bernard would be a solid pick in Round 4 or later. Because this will be more of a committee approach (about a 60/40 split) going against a brutal schedule, that puts Hill firmly in the second round in both standard and PPR leagues.

As for Bernard, he's not someone you really want until Round 5. If you're in need of an RB late in Round 4, he wouldn't be that big of a reach, especially in PPR leagues.