COMMENTARY | New Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard is being compared to some of the NFL's best running backs such as Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Thanks to size and similar skill sets, the comparisons make sense for now.
Bernard was the first running back off the board in the 2013 NFL draft when Cincinnati selected him in the second round. At North Carolina, Bernard proved to be a versatile threat that could stretch defenses on the ground and hurt them through the air as well.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is on board with the lofty comparisons for Bernard, although he's more in line with the Jones-Drew comparisons rather than Rice (per Jamison Hensley of ESPN):
"What everybody doesn't understand, when you look at Ray Rice when he was a young player, this guy is already a little taller, a little heavier," Lewis said at last weekend's rookie minicamp. "We're looking at comparisons of [Doug] Martin, and the back down in Jacksonville [Maurice Jones-Drew], and those kind of guys with that kind of stature. Everybody sees where they are now, but you also look at physically where they started out, and I think Gio's got special ability that way."
Lewis is correct about the size comparison. Rice entered the league and had to put on more weight as he developed. Bernard is already standing at 5'9" and 205 pounds. Even now, Rice is only at 5'8" and 212 pounds. Jones-Drew comes in at 5'7" and 208 pounds.
When you chart rookie seasons, Lewis is wise to hope for Jones-Drew-esque production from Bernard in his debut year.
Back in 2008 when Rice made his debut, he rushed the ball just 107 times for 454 yards and racked up just 273 yards through the air. He didn't score all year.
Jones-Drew stormed the league in 2006 and carried the ball 166 times for 941 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also added 436 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver.
If you had to project where Bernard falls, you'd likely choose a happy medium between the rookie seasons of Rice and Jones-Drew.
It's a safe bet Bernard will at least see 150 handoffs next year, even with the presence of incumbent starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Yes, he's the starter and has two years left on his contract, but he lacks the explosiveness to put the offense over the top, which he clearly demonstrated last season with a 3.9 yards per carry average.
Not only did Jones-Drew put up eye-popping numbers as a rookie despite playing second fiddle to Fred Taylor, he outscored Taylor and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
Bernard will have a chance to put up bigger numbers than Green-Ellis in that regard thanks to his explosiveness and ability to take the ball up the field in a hurry. It's also worth mentioning he'll be running behind one of the NFL's best run-blocking lines while defenses are worried about numerous threats in the passing game such as A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
Rookie year aside, Bernard certainly has all of the measureables and production to develop into a type of back in the same mold as Rice or Jones-Drew. He'll have two years to learn behind Green-Ellis before being thrust into the every-down role unless he steals that job sooner.
The jury is obviously still out on Bernard, but he's garnering these lofty comparisons for a reason. Bernard has a very bright future in front of him, but only hindsight will tell if said comparisons were fair.
Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling
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