Giovani Bernard is sporting his Bengals' stripes during rookie minicamp.
Sounds like a presumptuous statement, doesn't it? Maybe. However, there are several factors that make this speculation quite realistic.
Bernard has the makings of a complete back at the NFL level. He succeeds at all aspects of the game that are most important for rookie running backs. He is a very fine runner of the football, has exceptional hands out of the backfield and is well above average in pass protection.
Bernard is one of the most complete rushers to come out of the 2013 NFL draft. He not only has great vision, but shows great patience and the ability to let his blocks develop in front of him.
After that patience is shown, Bernard has a tremendous burst and has the tendency to use his excellent vision to squeeze through the smallest gaps in the line. He makes himself very small and is tough to detect by roaming defenders.
He also has great straight-line speed. Once Bernard is in the open field, it takes a very fast defensive back to catch him from behind. There will not be many cases in which Bernard breaks into the secondary only to be caught by a linebacker.
Once you add all of these aspects together, you'll find that you are left with the makings of an elite running back. Add in the improving Cincinnati offensive line and you have a very tough rushing attack to defend against.
One of the most dominant receiving running backs in college, Bernard finished his 2012 campaign with 47 receptions for 490 yards (10.4 yards per reception) and totaled five touchdowns.
Joining the quick-firing West Coast offense of the Bengals, Bernard will be given plenty of opportunities to showcase his great hands.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a player not noted for his abilities as a receiver, had 22 receptions in 2012. Bernard should see a greatly increased amount of targets coming his way this coming season.
Due to his reliability as a receiver, Bernard should quickly earn the trust of quarterback Andy Dalton and establish himself as a readily available weapon early in his career.
Bernard's abilities in pass protection have been recognized by many draftniks. He was often asked to help in protection while at North Carolina and never hesitated to help in that area.
He has been known to throw his entire body into defenders to knock them out of their intended path to the quarterback. Bernard is very physical and will attempt to fight off larger defenders in pass protection. He also establishes a good base and can hold his ground against an outside blitzer.
Bernard's ability to block along with his receiving prowess should earn him a position as a third-down back in addition to his role in a time share. This should make him the most utilized running back on the Bengals roster in 2013.
Expect Bernard to also get the bulk of the carries for the Bengals.
In today's NFL, the running game has evolved since the league has become more and more pass-oriented. Now, teams are not looking for the big, bruising running backs. Instead, they are looking for more versatile backs that can help in the passing game.
The between-the-tackles rushers will still be needed. However, they are not becoming change-of-pace backs. They will vulture goal-line carries and will be added in for short-yardage situations, but will no longer be the workhorse of a team.
This is what should happen with Bernard and Green-Ellis this season. Last season, the Bengals rushed 430 times; 278 of those rushes were by Green-Ellis.
That will change this year.
If the Bengals keep the same rushing rate, Bernard should be given about 230 attempts, compared to roughly 170 for Green-Ellis. The remainder of carries will be distributed among the remaining running backs.
Add in around 40 receptions, and now Bernard has 270 touches for the season. That is nearing the same amount as Green-Ellis had (300) in 2012.
So, why will Bernard win Rookie of the Year with 270 touches?
The answer is his explosiveness. He may be the most electrifying rookie to come out of the draft this season. If he touches the ball 270 times, his home run ability will be showcased each and every week. It will be difficult for other rookies to keep up the same amount of production at that pace.
To get a better idea of Bernard's explosiveness, let's take a look at one particular run while at North Carolina last year.
Bernard is lined up next to the quarterback in the shotgun formation here.
He takes a pitch to the weak side of the field as his offensive line begins to pull to the left. Currently, Bernard has four blockers ahead of him, but there are four unblocked defenders headed in his direction.
He continues on his sweep to the outside and keeps his eyes upfield while he watches for the blocks to develop. He sees most of his blockers engaged and decides to burst toward the outside.
While sprinting, he continues to look upfield toward the approaching defenders. They are trying to gain a better angle on Bernard for the tackle.
Bernard hits his next gear and bolts up the sideline to ensure the defenders could not get a good angle on him while he hit the edge. He now has only one more defender to beat.
He stays in bounds and continues to streak up the sideline while leaving the defenders in his wake.
Even after he slowed down slightly as he neared the end zone, the nearest defender to Bernard is still a full three yards away.
Now, take a look at the play in its entirety.
After all of the compelling evidence given, it is very difficult to doubt the fact that Cincinnati drafted the next Rookie of the Year with the 37th overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft.
Bernard had a very decorated collegiate career and 2013 will be the beginning of his enduring success in the NFL.