We would all like to forget Ryan Shazier's vicious hit on Giovani Bernard in the Wild Card game that knocked him out with a concussion. But what happened next was very telling of the love and respect the running back has earned. Jeremy Hill, the man competing with Bernard for carries, confronted four or five Steelers players and repeatedly said, "That's dirty, bro." Coach Marvin Lewis had to hold Vontaze Burfict back, at which point the linebacker said, "They want a wrestling match. We're going to give it to 'em."
So why do his teammates love him so much?
Maybe it's because he's only 5'9", but he actually welcomes contact from safeties (just ask poor Eric Reid). Or maybe it's because he tries his stiff arm out on guys 100 pounds heavier than he is. Or maybe it's the way he contorts his body to get every single yard each time he touches the ball.
In 2015, Bernard ran for 730 yards on only 154 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry were the third best of any running back with at least 150 carries. Bernard also caught 49 passes for 472 yards. To relive some of his most exciting plays from last season, watch the following video:
So with a running back with that much talent, some might ask whether it's time to make Bernard the focal point of the offense. Sure Hill is more of your traditional workhorse back. And yes, he is better in pass protection than Bernard. But with enough touches, Bernard's production could increase exponentially.
Think of it like this: if former Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders only got about 10 carries a game (like Bernard), he probably wouldn't have had a lot of those great 80 yard runs. In fact, Sanders would have ended up with a number of forgettable games, as his yards tended to come in huge chunks, sometimes later in games.
Like Sanders, Bernard is an offensive explosion waiting to happen. He has the agility and quickness to juke and then scorch defensive backs. And in the passing game, he's always been a great safety valve for quarterback Andy Dalton, who will be without two of his top three wide receivers from 2015 in 2016.
Of course, the counter argument to this is that Bernard's body may not be able to take the increased workload. After all, he is of below average stature for a running back and only 205 pounds. But actually, a number of running backs with similar size have handled heavy workloads rather well, as I explained in this video: