Guess which Cincinnati Bengals Pro Football Focus gave the highest rating on offense.
Tyler Boyd? No.
Joe Burrow? Nope.
Joe Mixon? Try again.
Tee Higgins? Negative.
It was... Samaje Perine, with a grade of 76.7.
In fact, the only Bengal who had a higher overall PFF grade was Jessie Bates (90.1).
More importantly, Perine had an outstanding run grade of 81.5.
Why Perine should get to come back
In terms of traditional stats, he averaged a hearty 4.8 yards per carry and was the motor behind the team’s 37-31 victory over the Houston Texans. In that game, he had 95 yards on just 13 carries (7.3 yards per rush) and two touchdowns. He also had 4 receptions and 41 yards through the air.
But bigger than the advanced stats and the simple numbers, Perine passes the eye test. He looks like a special runner. He always seems to be gaining positive yards. He runs hard and runs smart. Against the Texans and then again the next week against the Baltimore Ravens, when Perine had 51 yards on just 9 carries, the running game looked like it was coming along. While the Bengals lost that Ravens game big, 38-3, the running backs weren’t the problem. In addition to Perine’s solid performance, Trayveon Williams had 74 yards on 4 carries. Speaking of Williams, if you haven’t seen it, make sure to catch our interview with him.
If you’re thinking this is a small sample size, keep in mind the fact that Perine was a big-time back in college. As a true freshman in 2014, he ran for 427 yards... not on the season. No. In one game against Kansas. That’s the record for a single game in Division 1 college history.
Perine was an absolute star that year, rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns on just 263 carries (6.5 yards per rush). It was only when Oklahoma added an even more talented back in 2015 that Perine’s production would dip slightly. That back’s name? Joe Mixon.
After being selected in the fourth round by Washington, Perine had 603 yards as a rookie but then only 48 yards his next three years, the last of which was with Cincinnati. It wasn’t until this past year that he got his chance to shine after Mixon went down.
Perine is the perfect complement to Mixon. Both are patient when hitting holes and excellent at turning dump offs into big gains due to their vision and ability to read blockers. And they’re both tough - even violent -runners, which means the team wouldn’t lose any physicality when Mixon needs a breather or - God forbid - if he gets injured again.
Yes, Perine doesn’t have Mixon’s explosiveness or quickness. But Perine is more stout and about 20 pounds heavier. That means he can help wear out a defense in the middle of games, allowing Mixon to come in late and finish off teams with a couple big plays.
The problem: money
The obvious problem with re-signing Perine is, the Bengals simply can’t afford to pay three running backs, not when the team has so many holes. So if they can’t sign him to something close to the minimum, they might opt to go for whatever back they find on the waiver wire. But that would be a mistake. Perine is not just any backup. He’s special. He can be a difference maker as a backup.
The team is unlikely to part with veteran Giovani Bernard, whose charm and smile alone make him deserving of his salary. Bernard is a fan favorite. Clearly talented, he’s never been put in position to earn stats that reflect his explosiveness or quickness. A cutthroat team - there’s one in the northeast that comes to mind - would cut Bernard without a second thought, which would save about $4 million.
John Sheeran, in the video and podcast below, proposed another option - a far less popular one, I imagine: trade Mixon. Would a team with a ton of cap space, a poor offense, and a young QB that could use a trustworthy back take on the remaining three years (though the final year is a club option) of Mixon’s $48 million deal signed last year? Maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars or New York Jets take that chance if they think they can’t attract enough top free agents to use up their cap space? Or maybe the Miami Dolphins, who are reportedly interested in Aaron Jones, decide to trade for Mixon instead?
Cut Bernard? Trade Mixon? Rework some other contracts? If the Bengals are smart, they’ll find some way to keep Perine. Sheeran and I discuss this and the possibilities of re-signing Carl Lawson, William Jackson III, and A.J. Green as well in the video below.
You can also listen on iTunes or using the player below: