Giovani Bernard, the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft, has already become a force in the Cincinnati Bengals backfield. The UNC product has shared carries with Benjarvus Green-Ellis thus far, but the young back will overtake Green-Ellis as the feature back if he keeps it up.
Bernard has already made an impact in both the running and passing game. Entering play on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the 5'9" back had run for 60 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. He's also caught two Andy Dalton passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.
These are modest numbers for a running back through two games, but his status as a rookie makes the numbers impressive. He has quickly established himself as a viable offensive weapon in the Bengals backfield, and he has nearly equaled the production of Green-Ellis in fewer touches. This efficiency will be what causes a swap in future weeks.
Green-Ellis has racked up 100 rushing yards on 36 carries with one touchdown in two games, but only nine receiving yards on two catches in the passing game. He has more total yards, but he also has 24 more touches.
The two posted eerily similar lines in the first quarter of Sunday's game against Green Bay. Both ran five times and picked up a touchdown, but Green-Ellis racked up 23 yards to Bernard's 20.
Green-Ellis had a fine year with the Bengals last season. He ran for over 1,000 yards with six touchdowns, so it's natural to see him getting more touches earlier in the season. He will be a great mentor to Bernard in terms of both on-field play and off-field conduct. Regardless, there will come a time when a switch will be in order.
As the Bengals continue to improve and become more polished, it'll be time to feature Bernard in the backfield. He has simply too much potential as a back to have him sharing carries with Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis would complement Bernard well as the third-down or goal-line back. He's a big runner that runs well between the tackles and can pick up tough yards after contact. In short yardage situations, he's a perfect fit.
Bernard runs like DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers. He takes short strides but can generate speed quickly. These short strides allow him to cut and change directions quickly, making him extremely hard to grab and pull down for defenders.
This elusiveness is what makes Bernard a feature back. When looking at nearly every feature back in the NFL, it's easy to see that some sort of elusiveness is key. Blending that with Bernard's ability to get extra yardage after being hit is what makes him so important to the Bengals.
Rookie players will go through their growing pains—fumbles, missed blocking assignments, etc.—but Bernard simply has too much value to limit his carries. He needs to be a feature back for Cincinnati to make that next jump in the NFL rankings.