Rex Burkhead is entering his fourth season as a backup running back for the Bengals since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was a popular running back while playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, backing up Roy Helu in his first two years, before becoming the starter as a junior. In his senior season he returned to the backup role, this time behind Ameer Abdullah.
In the same draft as Giovani Bernard, Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Andre Ellington, and Marcus Lattimore, were taken, Burkhead was buried behind a host of highly rated prospects. His slow 4.73 time in the 40 yard dash did his draft stock no favors, pushing him down to the realm of being a target as an undrafted free agent.
In three seasons with the Bengals he is probably more identified for what he’s contributed as a receiver than a runner. He has compiled a line of 13 rushes for 31 yards (2.4 yards per carry) and 17 receptions for 143 yards. He has two total touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).
Of the 23 running backs drafted in 2014, Burkhead ranks last in rushing yards, not including Marcus Lattimore, who was injured and never played in the NFL, and Jawan Jamison, who was a seventh round pick who never played in the NFL. His 2.4 yards per carry rank last among all of these drafted running backs too. Looking at total yards from scrimmage per game played, Burkhead moves up from dead last, to next to dead last, ahead of only Michael Cox, who was one pick away from being Mr. Irrelevant in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Behind Bernard and Jeremy Hill, his opportunities have obviously been limited, but it seems fair to say that he has not shown much in those opportunities.
The primary competition for Rex Burkhead’s spot would likely come in the form of DyShawn Mobley, Bronson Hill and Tra Carson, a trio of rookie undrafted free agents added to the Bengals’ roster last month.
Both Mobley and Carson enter the roster battle with little fanfare, as neither was given enough regard to be invited to the combine. Both spent much of their careers as backups, with only one season each as their teams’ primary starters. Both bounced around from school to school, with Mobley dropping from UK to EKU, and Carson transferring from Oregon to Texas A&M. None are much faster than Burkhead, although Carson tested is athletic and also weighs in as the bigger back.
Despite this, in recent years we've seen rookie running backs emerge as highly successful, seemingly out of nowhere. Could that happen to one of the Bengals undrafted rookie running backs this year, if one is given a chance to play?
If you think Burkhead has talent, but his lack of production is simply tied to a lack of opportunity, then perhaps you favor Burkhead holding a roster spot for a fourth season. But if you’ve seen enough to feel that his upside is limited and want to see someone with potentially more upside get a shot, then perhaps you favor the Bengals going in another direction this year.
So who would you rather be given an opportunity as the Bengals' RB3?