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2016 Cincinnati Bengals Offseason Outlook: Running Back

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Not a lot of offseason time will be spent discussing the Bengals' running back depth chart heading into the 2016 season, but at the conclusion of the 2016 season, 80 percent of the running backs on the Bengals current roster are scheduled to be free agents.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, leading up to the start of free agency and the draft, we will take a look back at each position group on the Bengals, how they performed in 2015, their outlook for 2016 and whether or not the position is likely to see any influx or departure of talent via free agency or the draft.

Last week we took a look at the quarterback position. This week, we take a look at another position of strength and stability, running back. However, unlike the quarterback position, there are some major questions on the horizon regarding running backs on the team because no running back is signed beyond 2017 and four of the Bengals' five running backs will be free agents after the 2016 season.

2015 Recap:

Player

Carries

Yds

TD

YPC

Rec

Rec Yds

Rec TDs

YPA

Giovani Bernard

154

730

2

4.7

49

472

0

9.6

Jeremy Hill

223

794

11

3.6

15

79

1

5.3

Rex Burkhead

4

4

0

1.0

10

94

1

9.4

Cedric Peerman

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Ryan Hewitt

-

-

-

-

8

99

0

12.4

As a whole, I would have to give this group a below average grade and an overall tag of disappointment for the season. Starting with the good, Bernard was clearly the highlight of this group. His contributions to the run game and the passing game were excellent and he was the best third down outlet, however, his production was essentially what we expected. Cedric Peerman did what Cedric Peerman does, he was a special teams stud. Hewitt had another solid year as a fullback, but contributed very little statistically - which is fine for a fullback.

The disappointment in this group was huge, and it was mostly Hill. Sure, his 11 rushing touchdowns and 12 total touchdowns were excellent, but the touchdowns are misleading as they were the result of circumstances - Hill getting the ball on the goal line instead of Bernard. Coming into the season, many Bengals fans, including yours truly, believed Hill would build on his excellent rookie season and catapult himself into a top five back and perhaps even work himself into the discussion for best back. After a 794 yard and 3.6 YPC season, it is fair to say that did not happen.

Unfortunately, the only thing Hill established himself as was a fumbler and one that cemented his name on the wrong page of the history books. On top of the low yards and YPC numbers, Hill dropped from third (5.1) to t-39th (3.6) in YPC. He continued his issues with holding onto the football, as I highlighted earlier this offseason and tied for 3rd in the NFL in 2015 with four fumbles. No running back in the NFL has had more fumbles over the past two seasons than Hill's eight.

The other disappointment was Rex Burkhead, or the lack of Burkhead. In the offseason, we heard about Burkhead's expanded role in the offense and even saw it in the preseason. There was talk he'd be the Bengals' x-factor this season. Then the season started, and Burkhead totaled 14 touches - nine of which came toward the end of blowout wins.  Of course, with the weapons on this offense, there are only so many carries and catches to go around and Burkhead is low on the list, but it seemed like more opportunities were there for a guy with Burkhead's ability. If Jake Fisher got five targets, something tells me Burkhead could have had a bigger role in the offense.

2015 Depth Chart/Contract Numbers:

RB

Player

Depth Chart

Age

Status

Likelihood to Re-Sign

2015 Cap Hit

2016 Cap Hit

Dead Money

Signed Thru

1

Giovani Bernard

RB1

24

Signed

N/A

1,432,729

1,671,517

550,153

2016

2

Jeremy Hill

RB2

23

Signed

N/A

853,091

1,023,710

524,946

2017

3

Rex Burkhead

RB3

25

Signed

N/A

610,550

700,550

25,550

2016

4

Cedric Peerman

RB4

29

Signed

N/A

920,000

1,210,000

125,000

2016

5

Ryan Hewitt

FB

25

Signed

N/A

513,333

603,334

3,334

2016

2016 Outlook:

Barring injury or some unforeseen change of circumstances, I don't see this depth chart changing in 2016. The questions with this group come in 2017 where Hill is the only back signed past this upcoming season, and if he can't bounce back after his season ending fumble, his presence on the team past this season would be no guarantee either.

Here is what I expect to happen this offseason. I expect the Bengals to approach Bernard, and possibly Hewitt, about extensions. Hewitt should be very easy and affordable to sign. Unless Bernard is looking for a bigger role and not interested in sharing a backfield, I believe he should be affordable as well. Peerman will be 30+ when his contract expires after 2016 and I believe Peerman will be allowed to walk.

Burkhead's future will be a wait and see. Depending on his role (and health) in 2016, I believe he will re-sign if he establishes a functional role (i.e. slot receiver), if not, I think he will find a bigger role elsewhere. Last is Hill. My question with Hill is twofold: 1) can he mentally get over his fumble in the playoff game? and 2) can he physically get over his fumbling issues? If the answer to either is no, then I believe the Bengals cut him after the 2016 season and look for another big back to pair with Bernard going forward.