Earlier in the offseason, I outlined the Bengals' top 10 needs heading into the Draft. Something went wildly unnoticed, which was running back coming in at number seven on the list. Bengal fans are quick to point out that Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler will be free agents next season, and Tyler Eifert in 2018, but most people haven't seemed to notice that three Bengals running backs will be hitting free agency next offseason.
Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead will all hit free agency in the 2017 offseason, barring any of the three re-signing with Cincinnati before they hit the market. The Bengals will likely throw a deal Bernard's way in hopes of locking him up before another team can send him an offer, if they haven't already started the process. But with three running backs hitting the open market, there's a good chance Peerman or Burkhead could be gone.
The potential to lose Peerman or Burkhead could impact Cincinnati's draft strategy in a huge way. I'd guess the Bengals would love to re-sign both running backs, but it's more than likely an opponent tries to sign one or both players away. Peerman earned a Pro Bowl nod for his special teams prowess last season, and Burkhead has been underutilized in Cincinnati, buried on the depth chart behind Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
All things considered, I'd guess the Bengals will select a running back very late in the draft, perhaps in the sixth or seventh round, or even as early as the fifth round. On a somewhat-related note, I also believe that the Bengals will make a trade down at some point in the draft. The additional late-round pick gained from a trade could potentially be what Cincinnati uses to select a running back.
Whether it's Bernard, Peerman or Burkhead who signs elsewhere in 2017, or a combination of the three, the Bengals will likely draft a running back just to compensate for their potential loss, like they did in selecting Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in 2015. At worst, a late-round running back could potentially be stashed on the practice squad if all three backs were to re-sign.
Which running back the Bengals would select in the Draft is a question I can't answer, but one guy who comes to mind is San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin, who had a workout with the Bengals in March. He could be selected as early as the fourth or fifth round of the Draft, but he fits the mold of what Cincinnati is looking for: a guy who can run the ball, play slot receiver and make a few plays on special teams. Ervin is a great kick returner, which could also help his odds of landing in Cincinnati.
It's entirely possible that the Bengals pass on a running back in the Draft, but with three backs set to hit free agency, the odds Cincinnati selects a ball-carrier late in the draft seem pretty high.