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Bengals positional comparison from 2016 to 2017: running backs

The Bengals’ running back position could have a very different look in 2017 than it did in 2016.

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Bengals have experienced quite a few changes at many position groups on the roster heading into the 2017 season. However, very few positions have seen more significant turnover than the running back unit. The Bengals running backs averaged a measly 4.0 yards per run in 2016, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Clearly, some major changes were justified, even if the offensive line played a part in the lackluster results.

2016 roster

Jeremy Hill

It was another rough year for the Bengals’ starting running back. After an impressive 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns in only eight starts his rookie season, Hill saw a massive dip in yards produced the following year (794, 11 touchdowns). He started 15 games that year, making his production that much less acceptable. 2016 wasn’t much better as he rushed for 839 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 starts. Going forward, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bengals push him out of the starting lineup.

Status: Still on the team.

Giovani Bernard

Unfortunately, 2016 was ruined by injury for Bernard. He only played in 10 games, starting two, and recorded 337 yards and two touchdowns on 91 rushing attempts in the process. However, he also recorded 336 yards and a touchdown on 39 catches, reminding us all of his value as a multi-tooled offensive weapon.

Status: Still on the team, recovering from ACL surgery.

Rex Burkhead

The Bengals’ best-kept secret for years was Burkhead. The problem is, his talent was seemingly even a secret to the Bengals’ coaches. Throughout his career with the Bengals, he struggled to find playing time. But, with both Bernard and Hill hurt at the end of the season, Burkhead finally got a chance to start in the Week 17 finale against the Ravens. He absolutely exploded for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries as well as 25 yards in the air on two catches. He performed so well, there was plenty of talk during the offseason as to whether or not the Bengals should consider swapping his role with Hill’s as the starter.

Status: On the Patriots (more on that below).

Cedric Peerman

While Bernard is the Bengals’ most experienced running back in terms of starting exposure and overall playing time, the 30-year old Peerman is, by a wide margin, the oldest member of the running back corps. In such a crowded backfield, it is rare for him to have a chance to contribute as a running back. But, as a 2015 Pro Bowler and the special teams captain, his presence on the roster is much greater than that of your average fourth-string running back. It explains why the Bengals have elected to continue keeping him around.

Status: Still on the team.

2017 changes

Burkhead to the Patriots

For all the talk and speculation about the Bengals potentially investing in Burkhead by extending his contract this offseason, his future with the Bengals was shot down when he agreed to a one-year deal for $3.15 million with the New England Patriots. If he can produce similar results in 2017 to what he did in his lone start of the 2016 season, there is a chance he could earn a long-term deal with the Patriots as a top offensive weapon. For the Bengals, losing Burkhead meant an injection of talent at the running back position was needed this offseason.

Joe Mixon drafted in Round 2

On-the-field, Mixon was considered one of the most talented prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft, regardless of position. Because of the character concerns, the Bengals were able to pick him up with the 48th overall pick. He’s a multi-tooled offensive weapon who is known for being able to both dance around defenders and plow through them when necessary. With the addition of Mixon, the Bengals will have three former second-round picks at running back competing for a starting spot. May the best man win.

Brandon Wilson drafted in Round 6

The Bengals doubled-down at running back in the sixth round of the draft by picking up Wilson, a running back/defensive back hybrid who is listed at safety currently on the roster, but, could contribute on offense, too. Wilson can contribute on offense, defense and special teams, but the Bengals will need to figure out how to utilize him best.

Undrafted players

Last year, Tra Carson was the only significant undrafted signing at running back. Bronson Hill was also brought in, but he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent the previous year. Carson remains on the roster, though, Hill has moved on.

In 2017, the Bengals signed Jarveon Williams and Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams in undrafted free agency. Two unrelated players with the same last name, both were very productive in college, despite some setbacks. If they develop and make some necessary strides, either player could make the practice squad, or even surprise a lot of people by making the roster.