It’s no secret the Bengals need help at running back.
The Bengals finally appear ready to upgrade from incumbent Jeremy Hill and, at the very least, should relegate him to more of a backup role going forward. Even offensive coordinator Ken Zampese thinks this is an area of need, telling Bengals.com “We have a lot of needs. Running back is one of them.”
It’s no secret that great running backs are harder to come by these days than they used to be. However, there will likely be not only one, but two elite running back prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette looks like the next Adrian Peterson/Ezekiel Elliott/Todd Gurley, elite of the elite prospects that come around rarely. With the Bengals holding the No. 9 pick, it’s very easy to see a scenario in which they’re on the clock and Fournette is sitting there.
Fournette would be off the board for sure by No. 9 if not for an injury-riddled 2016 season. He missed five games and gained ‘only’ 843 yards and eight scores on 129 carries.
This, after he erupted for 1,953 yards and 22 scores on 300 carries in 2015 as a true sophomore. There’s little doubt he’d immediately be an upgrade over Hill, who is set to be a free agent in 2018 anyhow. It doesn’t appear the Bengals will look to extend him this year, unless he’s willing to take backup money.
Some think that career third-stringer Rex Burkhead is worthy of a starting role going forward. That may be true based on how well he played down the stretch, but if he’s a starting-caliber back, why didn’t he showcase that during his first three years?
Either way, Burkhead is a free agent this offseason, and there’s a decent chance another team pries him away. And with Giovani Bernard recovering from a torn ACL, which is hard for any running back to come back from and play as well as they did pre-injury, it may be smart for the Bengals to snag Fournette in the top 10.
How good is the LSU Tiger?
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah recently polled five NFL execs to determine whether they’d prefer Fournette, or the No. 4 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Ohio State in Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys rookie was just named an All-Pro selection after a first season in the NFL that saw him produce 1,631 yards rushing and 15 scores.
Jeremiah's findings had three votes for Fournette and two for Elliott. That’s how good Fournette is, and it’s also why we shouldn’t be surprised if he’s off the board by pick No. 9. Even if that happens, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook may not be quite the caliber of prospect as Fournette, but he’s not too far behind.
In 13 games for Florida State this season, Cook notched 1,765 yards on 288 carries (6.12 yards per carry) while catching 33 catches for 488 yards and scoring 20 times. He’s the perfect three-down back for a Bengals team that hasn’t had that since...Corey Dillon?
Taking Cook at No. 9 is something that the Bengals should also consider if they miss on Fournette. Some actually think Cook is the better prospect. Very few mock draft currently have Cook cracking the top 10, but it’s possible he makes it there by draft day. He’s a better prospect than Todd Gurley in my opinion, and Gurley went No. 11 coming off a torn ACL.
But let’s just say the Bengals find a better player to take at the No. 9 spot at a different position. They could still come out of this draft with a running back with a good chance to be an upgrade over Hill and Bernard.
Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Texas’ D'Onta Foreman, and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine are all great talents who could be available early in the second round if Cincinnati wants to get a running back.
All of those guys are more likely to end up being an upgrade to what the Bengals currently have in Hill. If they want to land an elite prospect who is highly likely to upgrade what’s become a stagnant ground game, Cook and Fournette are your guys.
Here’s a look at Sports Illustrated’s top 10 running backs for the 2017 NFL Draft:
|1||Dalvin Cook||Florida State||5' 11", 213 lbs.|
|2||Leonard Fournette||LSU||6' 1", 235 lbs.|
|3||Christian McCaffrey||Stanford||6' 0", 197 lbs.|
|4||D'Onta Foreman||Texas||6' 1", 249 lbs.|
|5||Curtis Samuel||Ohio State||5' 11", 197 lbs.|
|6||Kareem Hunt||Toledo||6' 0", 225 lbs.|
|7||Jamaal Williams||BYU||6' 2", 215 lbs.|
|8||Jeremy McNichols||Boise State||5' 9", 212 lbs.|
|9||Samaje Perine||Oklahoma||5' 10", 235 lbs.|
|10||Alvin Kamara||Tennessee||5' 10", 215 lbs.|
Would you like to see the Bengals draft a running back in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft?