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Bengals roster bubble 2017: Running back

The Bengals have kept four running backs on the 53-man roster for years. Will that continue in 2017? There is stiff competition for that final spot.

NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, the Cincinnati Bengals are set at the running back position. The veteran tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard lead the group, while rookie second round pick Joe Mixon shores up the developmental spot, with the potential to take over as the team’s top back. The order of the depth chart could look very different in Week 1 and Week 17, but there is no doubt the top three spots belong to those three players.

Last year, the Bengals’ third and fourth running back spots were occupied by Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead. Burkhead is no longer with the team, leaving Peerman to contend with less established players for the fourth spot. Adding interest to this race is Bernard’s recovery from November 2016 ACL surgery. All reports allude to Bernard being ready for Week 1, but, he’s yet to actually participate in a football practice and his recovery will need to be monitored as the season nears.

So, who’s on the roster bubble at running back and competing with Peerman for the likely fourth spot, assuming the Bengals continue their trend of keeping four backs on the 53-man roster?

Cedric Peerman

At 30 years old, Peerman’s NFL career as a backup running back is winding down. Although he has found playing time with the Bengals, he has never looked particularly impressive running the ball out of the backfield. Through eight years in the league, he has accrued just one start and 70 carries for 349 yards and a single touchdown. He has also hauled in 13 passes for 123 yards through the air.

However, the Bengals like keeping Peerman around because he is an excellent special teams player. He’s been a captain on that unit and earned a Pro Bowl nod after the 2014 season. He has done it all for the unit (punt returns, kick returns, kickoff/punt coverage) and provides a key veteran presence on a unit generally played by young guys looking for an extra way to earn their keep while patiently learning their primary position.

Purely from the standpoint of contributions to the running game, Peerman’s job should come under scrutiny. But, he makes up for it with excellent special teams play, which is why he remains the favorite to win the final spot.

Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams

Arguably the most talented young running back on the bubble who could potentially threaten Peerman’s job, Boom knows how to hit top gear and make defenders pay in open space. Unfortunately, at 5’7” and 190 pounds, it is difficult to see him making much of an impact at the NFL level. Then again, he dazzled in the SEC at Kentucky and plays a lot like three time Pro Bowl running back Darren Sproles, whose measurables are nearly identical.

Granted, Sproles was selected in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft as a result of his ability to pack a punch, despite his size, as well as his elite awareness. Williams could do well to learn those particular skills to thrive at the NFL level, but there is no denying he has the potential to be something special if he can come close to his production at Kentucky.

Jarveon Williams

The Bengals picked up the former UTSA running back after the 2017 NFL Draft because of his starting experience and impressive production in 2015 and 2016 (1,931 yards, 16 touchdowns). He’s seen as more of a traditional-style running back who won’t contribute much in the passing game and in today’s NFL, it seems nearly impossible to make it as a running back without being able to make some sort of impact through the air. That said, Williams is a talented runner and could put together enough tape this summer to earn a tryout with another team. But, it is unlikely he will make it onto the final roster or even practice squad.

Tra Carson

Carson proved his worth last offseason as he beat Bronson Hill out for a practice squad spot with the Bengals. He did finally make it onto the active roster for Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens, although he did not receive any snaps in the process. Still, he has to be considered the favorite for a practice squad role going into the preseason, simply due to his experience with the team. It is unlikely he would beat out Peerman for the final spot on the roster, but if he can display a strong ability to contribute on special teams, that could maybe change.