Breaking Down the 5 Best NFL Teams for Gio Bernard
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Bernard is the No. 63 overall prospect on Matt Miller's big board, sitting firmly in the second-round range. Miller ranks Alabama's Eddie Lacy as his best running back and the No. 32 overall prospect.
But while Lacy is a traditional, between-the-tackles workhorse, Bernard has a versatile skill set that could help an NFL team in a multitude of ways. On top of averaging 6.7 yards per carry as a senior, Bernard caught 47 passes and took two punt returns back for touchdowns.
As a runner, the 5'8" 202-pound Bernard has drawn comparisons to Ravens running back Ray Rice. But on my radio show this week on WGBX, Bernard said there isn't one particular player he models his game after.
"For me, it's really taking apart each running back and understanding their game and trying to add it to my game," Bernard said. "But at the end of the day, I'm just Giovani Bernard, just trying to make a living in the NFL."
Bernard would fit in well with a number of NFL offenses. But let's put his game under the microscope and break down his best five team fits.
5. Indianapolis Colts
Ballard and Gio Bernard would compliment each other well in the Colts' backfield.
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The Colts knocked it out of the park with their 2012 draft class. On top of winning the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, Indianapolis added wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, as well as running back Vick Ballard.
Luck threw for 4,374 yards as a rookie. Hilton, Fleener and Allen accounted for 1,663 of those yards, and Ballard led the team with 814 rushing yards.
The Colts have solid depth at the running back position. Ballard could develop into a reliable every-down starter, and while Donald Brown and Delone Carter have yet to develop into the players the Colts envisioned when they drafted them, they provide adequate depth at the position.
All the evidence points to Ballard being the clear-cut starter headed into next season, but the Colts would do well to add a different style runner to pair with him.
Gio Bernard would complement Ballard very well.
With a budding superstar at quarterback in Luck, the Colts will continue to ride his arm to success, and Bernard fits in perfectly with a pass-happy offense. And with Hilton being the team's go-to slot receiver, perhaps the Colts will consider relieving him of his punt return duties in the near future.
In 2012, Bernard returned 16 punts for 263 yards and two touchdowns. As a rookie, Bernard could be the Colts' third-down running back and punt returner. But if he's ever given the chance to be the Colts' starting running back, he could very well seize that opportunity and never look back.
4. Denver Broncos
Ronnie Hillman is a nice change-of-pace guy, but Gio Bernard would be an upgrade.
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Peyton Manning has to be one of the happiest people on the planet. The four-time MVP now has the league's best slot receiver (Wes Welker) to go along with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the perimeter.
Denver figures to have one of the most explosive offenses in football for the second year in a row.
But while the passing game will continue to be the Broncos' backbone, the team will likely look to address the running game at some point this offseason. The Broncos had the 16th-ranked rushing offense in football in 2012.
Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman are all under contract for the 2013 season. There has been speculation that the team could cut Moreno because of his $3 million-plus cap hit this year. If the Broncos find a veteran in free agency, perhaps they would consider cutting ties with McGahee, 32, as well.
Denver is likely to retain at least one veteran runner to go along with Hillman, who is entering his second season in the league. But assuming McGahee and Hillman are back on the roster, Gio Bernard would be a nice complement in that backfield.
Bernard probably wouldn't help the team as a punt returner, considering Trindon Holliday holds that title. However, Bernard's receiving skills would certainly be utilized by Manning in Denver's spread offense.
Denver could consider a physical runner like Alabama's Eddie Lacy with the 29th pick, or it could opt to wait until the second round to address the position at No. 58.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Bernard would be a nice complement to Dwyer and Redman.
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In the past, the Pittsburgh Steelers were among the most physical teams in football. But as the league has transitioned into an all-out aerial assault, the Steelers offense has adapted.
Ben Roethlisberger gives the Steelers a chance to win every Sunday. But beyond Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, their offensive identity headed into next season is relatively uncertain.
Earlier this offseason, Pittsburgh decided against re-signing Rashard Mendenhall, its first-round pick in 2008.
Mendenhall missed 10 games last season, opening the door for Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to shoulder the load on the ground. Dwyer and Redman combined for a serviceable 1,033 yards and four touchdowns on 266 carries.
Running back may not be the Steelers' most pressing need, especially considering they recently parted ways with James Harrison, but the team would be wise to add a more dynamic runner to pair with their current power backs.
Giovani Bernard would do exactly that.
As a rookie, Bernard would likely be a change-of-pace back for the Steelers. But now that Mike Wallace has signed with the Miami Dolphins, Antonio Brown will assume the role as Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver, which would likely take him off special teams.
Bernard could immediately fill Brown's shoes as a punt returner, while adding another dimension to a dangerous offense.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is solid, but Gio Bernard would add another dimension to the Bengals.
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And while Green-Ellis is a reliable starter, the Bengals could benefit from adding a runner with some juice this offseason.
Bernard Scott, a change-of-pace back, ended up on the injured reserve last season with a torn ACL. He's now an unrestricted free agent, and the Bengals are unlikely to bring him back unless it's on a one-year deal, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
So why not place Bernard (Scott) with (Gio) Bernard?
The former North Carolina running back caught 92 passes during his two seasons with the Tar Heels. Along with added value as a punt returner, Bernard would be a welcome addition to an already explosive Bengals team.
Cincinnati already has a budding superstar in A.J. Green on the outside, along with speedster Andrew Hawkins in the slot. Bernard would give the Bengals an explosive player in the backfield, providing quarterback Andy Dalton with a safety valve.
The Bengals have two second-round picks; they could consider drafting Bernard at No. 37 or at No. 53.
1. Green Bay Packers
Gio Bernard is a more explosion version of DuJuan Harris.
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The Packers have arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, along with a talented group of wide receivers. But in the past several years, they haven't had much of a running game to speak of.
According to ProFootballTalk.com on Tuesday, the Packers had serious interest in signing Steven Jackson. While Jackson would have stepped in and immediately been the starting running back, that doesn't mean passing on him is the wrong move.
Jackson, 29, may only have a few years of tread left on his tires. By opting not to sign him, the Packers will likely look to the draft to address the position. During my Mar. 13 interview with Giovani Bernard, he spoke highly of Jackson's game.
"I try to take something away from every running back in the NFL," Bernard said. "You've got a guy like Steven Jackson that's able to pick up the short yardage and run between the tackles, so that's obviously something I want to add to my game."
Bernard is a physical runner, but he's at his best on the perimeter and in the passing game. As long as Rodgers is under center, the Packers will be a pass-happy offense, and that type of scheme plays to Bernard's strengths.
The Packers appear poised to pull wide receiver Randall Cobb off special teams. Cobb is undoubtedly an explosive return man, but his value to the offense was proven last season when he caught a team-high 80 passes. If the Packers are able to sign Jackson, Bernard could fill Cobb's shoes as the team's punt returner, along with being the team's change-of-pace runner.
After picking at 26, Green Bay will be on the clock again at No. 55. Between his added value on specials teams and his talent as a pass catcher, it wouldn't be a surprise to see G.B. end up in G.B.