The Bengals have some big decisions to make at running back this offseason, and part of that will be based on the health of Giovani Bernard.
Bernard, who is now entering his fifth NFL season, is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 11 of the 2016 season, the first major injury he’s suffered in his pro career. The good news is Bernard seems to be on pace for a full recovery.
During his Scouting Combine meeting with the media on Friday, head coach Marvin Lewis gave a positive update on his talented running back.
"Gio’s done very well," Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He’s worked extremely hard, and things have gone very, very well thus far."
This jives with an earlier offseason report that Bernard has been killing it with his rehab and is on his way to being healthy enough to avoid PUP entering the 2017 season.
Still, this is a brutal injury for any player to come back from, especially when it’s a running back who puts so much strain on his legs with cutting changing directions, accelerating, and taking hits from NFL defenders.
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 or Jamaal Charles the first time he tore his ACL in 2011.
Bernard did tear his other ACL in college, and recovered just fine, enough so that he was a second-round draft pick by the Bengals. Will he make a similar recovery from his latest injury?
The Bengals have some tough decisions to make regarding this position heading into free agency and the NFL Draft. They’ll make an effort to re-sign Rex Burkhead, and how hard they do so may be dictated in part by how well they think Bernard bounces back from his injury.
And that’s not even accounting for the Bengals reportedly wanting to attack this position in the NFL draft, possibly as high as pick No. 9 in the form of Leonard Fournette.
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.
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 a post-ACL tear Bernard as their top two backs.
And, it sounds like they Bengals are smartly not planning for that to be the case.