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Giovani Bernard might be the toughest guy on the Bengals’ roster

Bernard might be the toughest player on the Bengals roster. Along with his amazing turnaround from an ACL injury in 2016, Bernard continues to fiercely claim every yard he earns.

Detroit Lions v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Let’s take a moment to praise running back Giovani Bernard.

Over the past four years, commentary regarding running backs in Cincinnati has typically centered around the devolution of Jeremy Hill and the promising stardom of Joe Mixon. Don’t mistake me. We talk about Bernard. But he often seems more like a peripheral subject.

Mixon is great. Hill is washed up. Bernard is cool. We like him.

Yet through five seasons, Bernard has been a rock-steady contributor for an offense that’s featured a revolving door of offensive coordinators. Between 2013-2017, Bernard has generated 4,973 yards from scrimmage, which ranks second behind A.J. Green (5,808 yards from scrimmage) during that time frame, on 920 touches and 24 touchdowns. Bernard is essentially a Mr. Do-It-All:

Giovani Bernard Distribution

2013 16 170 695 5 4.1 56 514 3 9.2
2014 13 168 680 5 4.0 43 349 2 8.1
2015 16 154 730 2 4.7 49 472 0 9.6
2016 10 91 337 2 3.7 39 336 1 8.6
2017 16 105 458 2 4.4 43 389 2 9.0
71 688 2900 16 4.2 230 2060 8 9.0

Bernard is looking to rewrite records that were once set by James Brooks. Here’s a couple of milestones Bernard is staring down:

  • With 68 receptions, Bernard (230) will surpass Brooks (297) for most receptions by a running back in franchise history.
  • With 952 yards receiving, Bernard (2,060) will surpass Brooks (3,012) for most yards receiving by a running back in franchise history.

Through each player’s first 71 games with the Bengals, Bernard has a slight advantage in receptions while Brooks edges out Bernard in yards receiving.

Receiving numbers: Giovani Bernard vs James Brooks after 71 games

STATS James Brooks Giovani Bernard
STATS James Brooks Giovani Bernard
GAMES 71 71
REC 194 230
REC YDS 2,089 2,060
AVG YDS 10.8 9.0
REC TDs 19 8

Brooks noticeably crushes Bernard in receiving touchdowns and overall touchdowns; Brooks scored 19 receiving touchdowns and 24 rushing touchdowns after 71 games with the Bengals. Compare that to 24 total touchdowns by Bernard (16 rushing, eight receiving).

There are obvious differences we need to acknowledge; the era in Brooks’ time favored more running back contributions (especially in offenses designed around the west coast); Brooks was a featured player in Boomer Esiason’s offense; Bernard has been relegated to a backup supplemental role through most of his career.

In some ways, Bernard’s pace to catch Brooks is even more impressive, especially since he’s been competing against A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert (that one year) for aerial distributions.

That being said, unless there’s a drastic change in distribution with Bill Lazor’s evolved scheme, it seems likely that Bernard will challenge Brooks next season — he’s signed through 2019.

Let’s focus on Bernard being one of the toughest SOB’s on the team’s roster.

There’s his ACL recovery — Bernard suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 20, 2016... 251 days later, he practiced during the first day of training camp.

Oh, he didn’t just practice either.

“Nearly every reporter in attendance at training camp on Friday was blown away and couldn’t stop talking about Bernard’s remarkable return to action,” our own Rebecca Toback wrote at the time. “Not only was he a full participant in all offense and special teams drills (he even returned kicks) he was looking good, had no issues and impressed the 1,300 fans watching practice. Bernard wasn’t even wearing a knee brace as he’s fully trusting his knee and doesn’t think it needs any extra support.”

Bernard generated 847 yards from scrimmage, averaging 5.7 yards/touch last season.

He’s toughness and attitude on the field is known, and it emerged during Cincinnati’s 30-27 win over the Chicago Bears.

Bernard generated 23 yards rushing on four carries — all during Cincinnati’s 80-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter — and viciously fought for every yard.

With 6:33 remaining in the first quarter, Bernard takes the handoff on a sweeping bend around the left edge, escorted by Billy Price and Cordy Glenn. Bernard collided with defensive back Marcus Cooper and dug for additional yardage, adding a nice little jab into Nick Kwiatkoski’s shoulder at the end.

Even his one-yard gain on the ensuing play, including a B-button spin against Eddie Goldman, required three defenders to eventually stop him.

Then there’s the 11-yard run with 3:06 remaining in the first. Cincinnati has a first down from the Bears 34-yard line. Bernard, after gliding through the line of scrimmage with amazing vision, Bernard directly takes on cornerback Bryce Callahan. Bernard and Callahan collided around the 27-yard line.

The impact forced Callahan to slide backwards, allowing Bernard to gain an additional two yards before four Bears defenders were required to bring him down.

Bernard is entering the second-year on a three-year contract and scheduled to earn $3.5 million this season. He’ll make an additional $3.8 million in the final year of his deal next season.

Folks can focus on Joe Mixon, and he’s as talented as any back in the NFL. Bernard is different in the sense that each yard isn’t necessarily about skill — rather fierce determination to run you over.