The Bengals have some big decisions to make at running back this offseason. One thing that will factor largely into those choices will be the health of Giovani Bernard.
Bernard is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 11, the first major injury he’s suffered in his four-year NFL career. Even so, that’s a brutal injury for any player to come back from, let alone a running back who puts so much strain on his legs with cutting changing directions, accelerating, etc.
It’s why we often don’t see backs ever return to their previous form after tearing their ACL, outside of the occasional freak like Adrian Peterson. Though, Bernard tore his other ACL in college, and recovered just fine, enough so that he was a second round draft pick by the Bengals. With that in consideration, the Bengals have some tough decisions to make regarding Rex Burkhead and how much the team is willing to pony up to re-sign him, not to mention whether the team should spend a high draft on another running back.
The good news is Bernard seems to be on pace for a full recovery and possibly be back in time for the start of next season. According to Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson, Bernard is having the kind of rehabilitation that Leon Hall had in 2012 coming off a devastating Achilles tear, from which he was able to recover and be active Week 1 of the regular season.
However, that doesn’t mean the Bengals won’t look to draft a back high in a 2017 draft class that’s absolutely stacked with talented backs.
Giovani Bernard (ACL) is having maybe the greatest rehab offseason since Leon Hall’s first Achilles’ reconstruction. If not, then since Leon Hall’s second Achilles’ reconstruction, so I’m willing to wager that barring a setback he won’t go on PUP. Maybe he’ll miss the first one or two games of the regular season, but I think that’s it. That’s merely a gut call, so we’ll see. After what happened with Tyler Eifert’s ankle I’ll leave medical speculation to the journals.
Still, you’re right. With Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead headed to free agency, I would think they’ll draft a back fairly early. But they also seem committed to get Jeremy Hill back in gear before he hits free agency next year.
At this point, I think the Bengals will make a strong effort to get Burkhead re-signed and give him a chance to play more next season, and possibly even start. That would likely deter the Bengals from spending a high draft pick on a back if they think Jeremy Hill will still be an adequate backup before hitting free agency in 2018. And per Hobson, the team is trying to get all they can out of Hill before his rookie deal expires.
But If the Bengals fail to re-sign Burkhead, the team will almost be forced to draft a back early during the draft. The team simply can’t afford to go into next season with the enigmatic Hill and post-ACL tear Bernard as their top two backs without a real threat to compete for a starting job.