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2016 fantasy football preview: Should you draft Bengals RB Giovani Bernard?

Fantasy Football season is nearly upon us. Where do the Bengals rank? In this installment of our fantasy football previews we look at Giovani Bernard's draftability in 2016.

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In just three short seasons, Giovani Bernard has seen his perceived fantasy football value jump up to a highly sought fantasy starter, down to an afterthought, and back up to a relevant option. And all of this, while his production has remained fairly consistent. Where do we foresee his 2016 season headed from a fantasy football perspective?

Historical look:

Looking back over the last few seasons, here are the relevant fantasy football stats for Bernard.

Yr G Att Yard Avg TD Target Rec Yard TD FF Pts/G FF Pts/G (ppr)
2013 16 170 695 4.1 5 71 56 514 3 10.6 14.1
2014 13 168 680 4.0 5 59 43 349 2 11.1 14.5
2015 16 154 730 4.7 2
49 472 0 8.3 11.3

2015 Review:

In his rookie year of 2013 Bernard burst onto the scene with 1,200 total yards and eight total touchdowns thanks to heavy usage in the Bengals' passing game. Headed into 2014, Bernard was seen as the lead back for the Bengals, and expectations were high for him. And while his second year saw increased production (on a per game basis), he was overshadowed by Jeremy Hill's second half of the year domination. Based on this, he headed into the 2015 NFL season under the radar, but produced 1,200 total yards, although his point scoring was diminished by Hill's touchdown vulturing ways.

In 2015, Bernard cranked out a 4.7 yards per carry average, which topped his career average. He also looked like the most dynamic runner in the Bengals' backfield, although he failed to get many touchdown opportunities, and saw his total carries drop for a second consecutive season.

2016 Outlook:

  • Positive changes from 2015: A contract extension could mean a larger role in the offense and the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu could mean even more work as a receiver.
  • What doesn’t change from 2015: The Bengals return 4/5 starting offensive lineman and presumably have the same offense and similar timeshare running the ball.
  • Negative changes from 2015: The addition of Tyler Boyd as a slot receiver could put a cap on Bernard's receiving production.

In his three year career, Bernard has averaged a very consistent 75 to 79 total yards per game, and his carries per game have been roughly in the 10 to 13 per game range. His touchdowns on the ground have never topped five, although he has usually been a pretty good receiver. In a points per reception format, his ability to hit about 50 receptions adds to his value.

There are no indications that his role as the "40" in the team's 40/60 split between he and Hill in the running game will be changed. The Bengals have been pretty consistent in not changing Bernard's workload, neither when Hill flourished in 2014 nor when Hill struggled in 2015. So we can reasonably assume he will continue with his 160~170 rushes per season, and hit his career 4.4 yards per carry average, for about 750 rushing yards. I'd also project he will resume his typical five rushing touchdowns per season.

Receiving, he should be able to hit his mark of about 45 or 50 catches for 450 to 500 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Putting all of this together gives Bernard a projected stat line of:

Yr G Att Yard Avg TD Rec Yard TD FF Pts/G FF Pts/G (PPR)
2016 16 170 748 4.4 5 45 475 2 10.3 13.1

If Bernard can hit those numbers, which are fairly realistic for him, he would likely outproduce Hill, who is typically being drafted ahead of him. His average draft position is around the mid sixth round to mid seventh round. With Hill getting a large number of carries, including at the goal line, Bernard is unlikely to emerge as an elite fantasy producer this season (barring an injury), but his prominent role in the Bengals' offense means he should be a steady contributor as a second or third running back for your fantasy team, especially in a PPR league.