Plenty of fans are excited to see what Zac Taylor’s offense can do to improve the performance of some of the more prominent—and for the most part—younger players.
With a collection of productive players who have been ignored by national media as well as some young guys who may not have gotten a fair shot with the last coaching staff, this is surely the pressing topic for Taylor’s inaugural season.
People seem to be forgetting the most underutilized offensive player from the Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton era: running back Giovani Bernard.
Weight: 202 lbs
College: North Carolina
Hometown: West Palm Beach, FL
Experience: Entering his seventh season
Bernard is entering the final season of his four-year contract, according to Spotrac. He is set to make $3.4 million in a base salary, and he carries a $4.5 million cap hit into 2019. That doesn’t seem like much, but Bernard actually has the 16th highest cap hit among running backs in 2019. He is set to become a free agent after the season.
The Bengals drafted Bernard in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and it looked like he was going to be the next lead back for the Bengals. He was played behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and he had a terrific rookie season with over 1,000 total yards and eight touchdowns.
Bernard’s hype was cut short the following the team drafting Jeremy Hill the following season in the second round. While Bernard did start the season as the starter, Hill eventually did take over, and he had his magical rookie season.
2014 and 2015 were the last times that Bernard reached 1,000 total yards. Injuries played a part in 2016, but after that he really played second fiddle to Hill and eventually Joe Mixon in 2017.
Last season, he simply wasn’t used enough, and there was really no reason for it. They decided Mixon should receive most of the carries, but they never really got into the habit of playing both Mixon and Bernard on the same play, which should change this season.
Outlook for 2019
It is understandable why fans and media flock to how players like Andy Dalton, Mixon and John Ross could shine with the right coaching staff, but it is easy to forget that not only has Bernard not been used enough, but his skill set wasn’t properly used over the past few seasons.
Bernard isn’t just an outside/open space runner, he can run in between the tackles, but the Bengals’ offenses over the past few seasons seemed more content to merely throw him a screen pass or a swing route and call it a day rather than design plays to get him in space.
Bernard had a career low 35 receptions last season, and his career-high 56 came his rookie year in 2013. One thing we should hopefully see is Bernard and Mixon on the field at the same time, which is strategy that Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic also elaborated on recently. That opens up the possibility of having at least one in the slot, which is something the Rams did plenty of last season with Todd Gurley.
2018 RB Slot Route Leaders— Matt Gajewski (@Matt_Gajewski) June 16, 2019
1. Todd Gurley - 80
2. Tarik Cohen - 72
3. Duke Johnson - 70
4. Alvin Kamara - 63
5. Christian McCaffrey- 55
6. Theo Riddick - 51
7. James Conner - 48
8. Nyheim Hines - 44
9. James White - 40
10. Ezekiel Elliott - 39
Bernard should also be way more active in 2019. In 12 games last season, Bernard touched the ball a total of 91 times. When you combine the fact we should see two running backs on the field more often and Taylor planning on keeping Mixon fresh for later in the season, it is easy to see a bump in those numbers even if rookie running back Trayveon Williams carves out a role as well.
When you combine it altogether, we could finally see the kind of player Bernard should’ve been shown off as for the past six season.
One thing that keeps Bernard pretty safe despite the large cap hit for his position is the fact that rookie running back Rodney Anderson may not be completely healthy heading into the season. He tore his ACL early in the college football season last year, and the Bengals may try to place him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
It is pretty clear that regardless of Bernard’s performance this year that the Bengals at least have a plan in place to go forward without Bernard. We likely won’t know until free agency how that would turn out, but considering the Bengals like to have at least four running backs on the 53-man roster, Bernard’s spot for 2019 is pretty safe.
Roster odds: 80%