Second Round: 37th Pick
Fantasy football players won't love the 2013 NFL draft, because it lacks that marquee prospect at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. There may not be a Trent Richardson among the backs turning pro, but many productive starters come out of the second round, and that's where many people have North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard hearing his name called at Radio City Music Hall.
Let's see why.
Bernard runs with a good, low pad level and high foot frequency that allows him to change direction and routinely break tackles around his feet and lower legs. His acceleration is good enough to get to the second and third level, breaking long gains.
Bernard is among the best pass receiving backs in this draft, and he is also an above-average punt returner. You won't see Bernard dance or be shy about running between the tackles, and he usually falls forward. He finishes games well and looks like a lead back in the NFL.
Bernard isn't big enough to push the pile. He doesn't have true breakaway speed, and his initial burst is good, not great. He can make a tackler miss in the open field occasionally, but he doesn't have ankle-breaking quicks or sudden moves that tend to leave opponents grasping at air. In short, as a runner Bernard is good at everything, great at nothing.
At 5'8" and 202 pounds, Bernard has an ideal compact build with a low center of gravity. While he's not hefty enough to generate a ton of power, he isn't going to get pinballed around, either. He can be a 300-carry lead back in the NFL. A 4.53 40 isn't going to scare defenses, and Bernard's 33.5" vertical also indicates average explosiveness at best for an NFL running back. He does have good quickness with a 6.91 three-cone and 4.12 short shuttle time.
Bernard is a hard worker who persevered through a torn ACL in 2010. He plays through injuries in games and is held in high regard by his coaches and teammates. He did have some soreness in his surgically repaired right knee last season, so that will have to be checked by the doctors.
Bernard took most of his carries from the shotgun, so he gets up to speed quickly from a standstill. There are no signs that he wouldn't take to a running game that asks him to take carries running downfield from the traditional tailback spot seven yards deep.
Bernard is generally efficient and doesn't hesitate in the backfield or bounce everything outside (running behind Jonathan Cooper helps). He usually sees the cutback lane when it is there, and he is agile and quick enough to hit it. Bernard is patient and follows his blocks, but not to a fault, and he is very good at picking and sliding through small holes.
The single most outstanding part of Bernard's game might be his receiving ability out of the backfield. He has very good hands and can adjust to passes that aren't accurate. As a blocker, Bernard is willing and energetic, but he usually chooses to go low rather than take his man head on. He can spot ablitzer and move across the pocket to obstruct him, and Bernard is good enough as a blocker to be a legitimate three-down back in the NFL.
Between the Tackles
Bernard isn't a pounder, but he runs hard enough to break arm tackles at the point of attack. He runs with urgency, and his initial burst scoots him through the hole very quickly. He gets low and small through hole naturally, and his pad level gives defenders less to wrap up. This is especially impressive on film with Bernard because he is usually taking his carry from a standstill instead of with momentum.
Bernard employs a variety of shifty moves to elude tacklers in the open field, including a start/stop, jab step and spin move. He understands how to set up his opponents in a one-on-one situation, and he has strategies for the second level before he gets there. He doesn't always make the tackler miss, but Bernard's elusiveness is almost always good enough to get extra yards after contact. While Bernard isn't sudden enough for this to be major strength of his game, it's certainly not a weakness, either.
Calling Bernard a "power back" would be incorrect. He can break tackles aimed at his strong lower body, and he doesn't shy away from collisions, but Bernard isn't going to make highlight reels by running guys over.
He does have a nice stiff arm, and his leg churn is powerful enough to drag a tackler for a little ride. Most of Bernard's power is generated by running hard, but he won't be an excellent short-yardage back at the next level. He does find a little more juice in his legs around the goal line.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Bernard fits as an every-down back, although there will likely be backs on every roster that do something better than does, so a lead back in a committee might be his NFL destiny. His ability to get up to speed and pick a hole quickly should make him a good fit for teams that want to run read option, and his vision and decisiveness also work for a team with a zone-blocking scheme.
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