Giovani Bernard dazzled on the football field last season, but this is the year he truly makes an impact in fantasy football.
As a rookie in 2013, the former North Carolina standout finished 18th among running backs in fantasy points. This was pretty amazing considering he only managed to get 170 rushing attempts while sitting behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the depth chart. The Lawfirm also got the majority of carries around the goal line.
The good news is things should be different this time around. Even with Green-Ellis still on the roster, the Cincinnati Bengals staff certainly noticed the running back struggle throughout the year. He finished the season with an average of just 3.4 yards per carry, which ranked 41st in the NFL out of 48 qualified players.
Cincinnati drafted Jeremy Hill out of LSU in the second round, presumably to fill this role as the plodding inside runner. While this only means more competition in the backfield, this season will be Bernard's time to shine.
According to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, running backs coach Kyle Caskey explained the plan for the second-year running back:
I don't know if it's the workload that's going to get more, it's more the type of plays that we're going to run with him in the game. We're going to expand his portfolio of plays and find different ways to get the ball in his hands in space. You get the ball in Gio's hands in space, he's dangerous.
He also added Bernard could get 260 to 300 total touches after getting just 226 his first year. With only nine players getting more than 300 touches last season, this would be just fine for the young runner.
Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer speculates the running back "gets 300 touches by the end of the year and takes a good share of goal line carries." Adam Levitan of Rotoworld explains why the goal-line carries might come:
Don't assume Gio Bernard will lose goal-line work. Ran for five TDs last year from 7, 3, 3, 35 and 1 yards out: http://t.co/Fl41GemdbP— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 13, 2014
Even with Hill's size advantage (6'1" and 238 pounds, compared to Bernard at 5'9", 208), Bernard has the chance to show he is quicker to the line and capable of pounding it into the end zone.
Of course, touchdowns could be fluky when playing fantasy football. You want someone who can put up a lot of yards, and Bernard has the chance to do that every week. He averaged over 75 total yards from scrimmage last season, and he should get even more this year.
As Caskey explained, the Bengals are also going to do their best to get the running back the ball in space. He showed plenty of times last season he can make things happen in these situations, like he did against the Miami Dolphins:
With close to 20 touches per game, the dynamic player has an opportunity to get at least one or two big plays and possibly get into the end zone. This could give him added value in fantasy regardless of what the coaching staff decides to do with goal-line carries.
There are few every-down backs left in the NFL, so fantasy owners looking for players set to get over 350 carries are going to be out of luck. However, Bernard can get his fair share and be a consistent contributor who will provide more than a few huge games.
Even drafting him in the second round does not represent much risk for a player who should be able to finish among the top 10 in fantasy points at the position.
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