When it comes to the Bengals’ backfield, Joe Mixon has gotten most of the attention over the past year, and for good reason.
The 2017 second-round pick out of Oklahoma was viewed as one of the most talented players in last year’s draft, not to mention a first-round talent that the Bengals scooped up in the middle of Round 2.
Mixon went on to have a solid rookie season that has him getting a lot of fantasy football hype entering the 2018 season. However, one should not make the mistake of thinking Giovani Bernard is going to be nothing more than a handcuff for Mixon this season.
After all, Bernard bounced back from a torn ACL in 2016 to have a solid 2017 season in his own right, including 168 total yards and a score in Cincinnati Week 16 upset of the Lions, which knocked them out of the playoff hunt.
Bernard actually finished the season with the third-most receptions of any Bengals (43) to go with 389 yards and two scores. That’s a very high number for a running back, and part of that is due to how well Bernard is as a pass protector.
After all, teams aren’t going to have a running back get a lot of targets if he can’t pass protect. A lot of receptions made by running backs are after they run a route when they see they won’t have a man to block in protection.
That’s something Bernard excels at, and it’s what makes him such a valuable asset to the Bengals. According to Pro Football Focus, Bernard has finished in the top four in pass-blocking efficiency in back-to-back years.
It’s becoming common knowledge that Bernard is one of the best blocking backs in football, and that’s something the Bengals have desperately needed over the last two years, which have seen their offensive line fall to one of the league’s worst units.
Having a great blocking back in Bernard has helped contain the bleeding and kept the Bengals offense from completely going into the tank. It’s also helped keep Bernard on the field for a healthy amount of snaps per game, not to mention keeping him somewhat fantasy relevant in PPR leagues.
All of this is also why you need to think carefully when drafting Joe Mixon in fantasy football this year. Unless Mixon takes a big step forward as a pass blocker (he finished 2017 with a putrid 47.7 pass-blocking grade), this area will ensure Bernard plays a lot in 2018 and keeps Mixon from becoming a true RB1 in fantasy leagues.