COMMENTARY | The Bengals and the rest of the NFL are probably wondering about now how a running back with the elite abilities of Giovani Bernard could somehow last until the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. In just the third game of his career, Bernard again demonstrated just how talented he is.
The stats don't wow quite yet -- 10 carries for 50 yards and four catches for 49 yards -- but the stutter steps, the instant cuts in traffic, the power drive and the acrobatics, like his three-yard launch into the end zone on a bounced-out run, all suggest that the numbers are going to match the skills sooner rather than later.
Big Surprise, Small Package
At 5-foot-9, Bernard is built solid at 208 pounds. He is a power, contact runner with low leverage who has the knack of always finding a way to gain yards while he's being tackled. This penchant for power is somewhat surprising, considering that his size and pass-catching ability may have slotted him as primarily a third-down back with limited opportunities in series rotation with starting RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
As much as the power running is a surprise, the open-field skills are even better than advertised. Bernard demonstrated to the whole country on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers that he can accelerate at a different gear than everybody else when he turned a short pass into a 27-yard TD.
Bernard finished with nine touches for 65 yards and two TDs against the Steelers. In Week 1, Bernard had just five touches for 30 yards, but even then foreshadowed the surprise that was coming and the surprise that remains to be seen.
Now that the surprise is out and looks like he's here to stay, the workload for Bernard is expected to go up. Already he has progressed from five touches, to nine in Week 2 and 14 in Week 3. Given how effective Bernard is, there's no reason to scale him back. His workload should increase to 20 touches per game and stay that way for the rest of the year. Bernard is already a more viable offensive weapon than the starter Ellis and should be utilized as the featured back from here on out if the Bengals are going to give themselves the best chance to win.
The only pause for caution with Bernard is the obvious one of health. If the Bengals are to advance to the postseason and continue toward a conference title game, Bernard will give the team an edge unlike any of the other weapons at the disposal of Dalton. He will also force defenses to key on him to the point that all of the other Bengals' receivers will benefit from the scrutiny Bernard draws every time he is on the field.
Home Run Hitter
Besides the TD catch-and-run Bernard had against the Steelers, he also reeled off a key run after a short pass against the Packers. With the Bengals trailing 30-21 early in the fourth quarter and the ball at their own five yard line, Bernard turned on the jets and turned a short pass into a 31-yard gain. The play seemed to stoke the offense the rest of the way for another TD drive that set the stage for the Bengals' unlikely comeback.
Bernard didn't spring that 31-yarder all the way, but the sense is that it's just a matter of time before he does.The Bengals under Marvin Lewis have never had a home-run hitter quite like this coming out of the backfield, and some of the question marks about how much of a contributor he would be in his rookie year are being answered with a great big, "SURPRISE"!
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com
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