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Giovani Bernard could exceed expectations for the Bengals this season

Joe Mixon gets the attention, but Gio will play a major role in this offense once more.

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

Bernard has frequently found himself as the second option on the Bengals running back depth chart, despite often outplaying whoever has been in front of him. As a rookie, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and over the past four years it was Jeremy Hill. Last year, it was also Joe Mixon.

For his career, Bernard has taken about a 40/60 split with his fellow running backs with the rushing duties and often ceded short yardage and touchdown carries. Despite this, since joining the Bengals in 2013, Bernard has almost an identical yards from scrimmage as Green-Ellis, Hill, and Mixon combined, despite touching the ball 285 fewer times.

Bernard has gained over 2,000 receiving yards since being drafted which is good enough for tenth best in the entire 2013 draft class, even outpacing a trio of wide receivers and a tight end who were drafted in the first and second rounds, ahead of him.

What are his chances of making the roster, and where does he currently stand in the pecking order at his position?

Giovani Bernard

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 205 pounds

College: North Carolina

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL

Experience: Sixth-Year Player

Cap Status

Bernard has two years remaining on a 3-year, $15.5M contract that he signed with the Bengals which took effect after his original rookie contract. The deal will keep him in Cincinnati until 2020, when he is scheduled to enter free agency.

The annual average compensation of $5.167M per season makes Bernard the ninth highest paid running back in the NFL. Among the Bengals his average is eleventh highest on the team.


Most of the self-appointed draft experts had Bernard near the top of their running back board, if not at the very top, for the 2013 draft. He joined the Bengals as a second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. With no running backs selected in the first round, Bernard was the top overall running back selected in 2013 and has arguably been the second most successful, behind the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell who was drafted 11 picks later, at #48 overall.

Bernard was selected with pick #37 overall, which came to the Bengals as a package of two picks from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Carson Palmer. Bernard was actually one of two running backs that the Bengals drafted in 2013, selecting Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead in the sixth round.

As a freshman at the University of North Carolina, he tore his ACL on the third day of practice and missed his entire first season. In his second season, his redshirt freshman year, he emerged as the team’s starter, compiling 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns on the group, as well as 362 yards and 45 receptions thru the air.

UNC changed their offense for Bernard’s redshirt sophomore season, but he still did well, rushing for over 1,200 yards and added 12 touchdowns. He also collected 47 receptions for 490 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

In college, he was an elusive, shifty type of running back who could also serve as a good receiver. He was quick with good vision with the ball in his hands and operated well out in space. Essentially, his traits were that of a great third-down back who could be productive on first and second down, as well.

In hindsight, the 2013 draft was rather awful at the top. Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Dion Jordan were the top three picks, with Barkevious Mingo, Jonathan Cooper, Tavon Austin and Dee Milliner also in the top 10. So, to find anything of value was a job well done, and the Bengals did a good job selecting Bernard.

2018 outlook

Barring an unforeseen and abrupt retirement from the NFL, Bernard is essentially assured of a spot on the Bengals roster and a big role in the offense. The Bengals have little depth and experience behind him and Joe Mixon, so there is zero percent chance of Bernard being outplayed and losing his roster spot at any point – especially given Marvin Lewis’ penchant for favoring veterans to a fault.

Bernard is a good, veteran player at a position that doesn’t have a lot of depth on the roster.