Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard has been one of the better running backs in the league during his first three years, but continues to be overlooked by dynasty owners because of the presence of another young back, Jeremy Hill. Now that Gio has been given a new contract and is in Cincy for the foreseeable future, people need to accept the fact that although a true RBBC has been solidified in Bengal country, the two running backs have very different games, while both still being serviceable fantasy commodities. However, as this article will disclose, Bernard is the better player out of the two, especially in PPR formats.
Get to know Gio
During high school, Bernard was a standout at high school powerhouse program, St. Thomas Aquinas, and was rated as the number two running back in the state of Florida. Eventually, he elected to play college ball at the University of North Carolina. After a torn ACL during camp cost him his first season, Gio put up over 1,600 total yards and scored 14 TDs in his 2011 redshirt freshman season in Chapel Hill. Gio had the most yards per game of any freshman running back in the country. Following up his freshmen season, he actually improved as a sophomore, going over the 1,700 total yard mark, while scoring 17 TDs. Ultimately, Bernard was also named the CFPA punt returner of the year. However, following that season Bernard declared for the NFL draft.
Despite only weighing in at 202lbs., Bernard put up 18 reps of 225 on the bench press at the NFL combine. He has bulked up a little bit since that time and continues to have great strength for a smaller back. Gio was also clocked at a 4.52 40-yard dash and was the top performer in both the 20 and 60 yard shuttles. As a result of his Combine performance and productive collegiate career, the Cincinnati Bengals made him the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft with the 37th overall pick.
So far, in his albeit still young NFL career, Bernard has put up 1,200 total yards in two out of three seasons, the exception being his second year where he missed three games, but had a slightly higher yard per game average than the other two years. Additionally, he has caught an average of 49 passes per year and has scored 17 career touchdowns. Since 2000 there have only been nine other running backs who have caught over 135 passes and totaled at least 3200 all-purpose yards in their first three seasons: Le’veon Bell, Matt Forte, Stevan Jackson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Lesean McCoy, Ray Rice, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Dominick Williams. Gio has quietly stayed consistent enough to put himself in elite company.
Today, many fantasy owners still appear concerned about the Jeremy Hill effect, but I think Cincinnati is a great spot for Bernard. Hill is a big, slow, pounder, who averaged one of the worst yards per carry in the league last year. Conversely, Gio is a shifty pass catcher and speed/agility back who possesses a complete opposite skill set to that of Hill. In today’s NFL it makes no sense for teams to rely on one running back to do it all, unless they are the rare exceptions such as; Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley.
Most likely Cincy will go forward with just Bernard and Hill. Truth be told, with the overwhelming amount of talent to go around at the position right now, and supposedly one of the best running back classes of all time coming up in 2017, there are not many backs with a safer role going forward than Gio. Good things happen when he touches the ball, and Cincinnati knows that and will continue to give him 200+ touches as they have every year of his career thus far. I expect his touch count to go up going forward, simply because I think he is not just a superior receiver to Hill, but a better runner as well.
In my view, Bernard is a safe bet to be a consistent RB2, with RB1 upside if he can get enough touches. Plus, he is only 24 years old! This is why he is my 7th ranked overall running back in dynasty. Right now, Gio is being drafted at the RB20 mark. This makes him the biggest steal at the running back position, especially in PPR formats. My recommendation…go get your Bernard shares now, before his price goes up!
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