Cincinnati Bengals: Full Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Running Back
The situation in the Cincinnati Bengals' backfield is growing more and more intriguing with each passing day. It once seemed pretty clear who the main dual-threat runners would be, but the emergence of newcomer Jeremy Hill's muddles things a bit.
Going forward, the status of BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to be interesting to see. Considering how much he stands to make this season—$2.3 million in base money, according to Spotrac.com—it does not seem like a wise financial decision to keep him on the team.
Giovani Bernard is one of the best up-and-coming running backs in the league. He's incredibly quick and explosive and is a dual-threat in his own right, as he is useful in the passing game. There was never any doubt about his place on the roster.
Jeremy Hill and maybe even UDFA James Wilder Jr. from Florida State make the battle for the spots behind Bernard intriguing. Hill has been getting some first team work, and with him being a second-round pick, you have to believe he's going to see a lot of playing time in 2014.
With only four spots likely available, how will the running game stack up in Cincinnati?
4th String: Cedric Peerman
Cedric Peerman is certainly not the most interesting player to challenge for a roster spot, as many Bengal fans may begin to clamor for look at Florida State standout James Wilder Jr.
Since joining the Bengals in 2010, Peerman has, however, made a name for himself on special teams. His play on that unit won't necessarily draw much attention from fans, but that's the role the team is looking for him fulfill.
He did see some action on the offense in 2012 when injuries depleted the running back position, and it's worth noting that he averaged over seven yards per carry in his limited showing.
Don't expect to see Peerman get a whole bunch of carries in 2014, but he will be on the roster.
3rd String: Rex Burkhead
Like James Wilder Jr., Rex Burkhead is a player whom a lot fans probably want to see more of. But the talent at the top of the running back depth chart, keeps him from getting meaningful snaps.
Burkhead was taken in the sixth-round of last year's draft following a successful career at Nebraska. In 2011, he ran for over 1,300 yards and scored 15 times on the ground. He also caught a couple of TD passes.
There is some speed there, though Burkhead posted only a 4.7-second 40-yard dash at last year's combine, which calls into question his ability to outrun defenders and get to the edge. He seems to be a bit like former Bengals RB Brian Leonard—a good third-down back who won't be the focal point of opposing defenses but can help an offense move the chains on occasion.
He only appeared in one 2013 game, but has no stats to speak of. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis possibly out of the picture, we may get a more significant look at Burkhead.
It'll be a limited look if we do get one, but I'm eager to discover whether Burkhead can be effective in an actual NFL game.
Backup: Jeremy Hill
The term "backup" as it pertains to NFL running backs is a term that should be used loosely. On the depth chart, Jeremy Hill will appear as a backup, but with the league mostly converting to a two-back system, he could also be called a "co-starter."
Giovani Bernard (spoiler alert) will see the majority of the carries and action on offense, but with the 6'1", 233-pound Hill being the new "brute force" guy, he too will get a lot of action on Hue Jackson's offense.
While at LSU in 2013, Hill averaged a whopping 6.9 yards per carry on 203 touches, totaling 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns.
As a receiver, Hill is a skilled pass-catcher with nice hands. His pass-blocking is inconsistent, but it's as a downhill runner where the rookie could be really make his mark. Once this snowball picks up speed, defenders may as well duck and cover, because he has the power to blow right through them.
Hill may need a little time to develop in the NFL, but the rookie's going to get plenty of chances in 2014 to do just that.
Starter: Giovani Bernard
The one spot in this group that seems to have no questions is who the starter will be. Make no mistake about it—Giovani Bernard is going to be given the opportunity to burst onto the main stage in 2014.
Bernard made an impressive showing during his rookie season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and scoring five times on the ground. Furthermore, he caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three touchdowns. Had he not been sharing snaps with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard would have made a strong case to be the Rookie of the Year.
With Green-Ellis either on the way out or on the way down, Bernard has the keys to the ignition. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson appears to be a big fan of the running game in the Queen City and is likely to give it a lot of attention.
The Bengals' running game largely has largely dormant since the days of Corey Dillon. There have been bright spots, such as the play of Rudi Johnson, but they have been short lived.
Bernard has the look and the tools of a perennial Pro Bowler, and 2014 could see him take a huge leap forward. Watch for the former North Carolina Tar Heel to rack up over 1,000 yards on the ground and be in double-digits in touchdowns.
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