Sunday Spotlight: Cedric Benson

The Chicago Bears selected running back Cedric Benson(notes) with the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft. The Texas back was seen as perhaps the best mix of acceleration, short-area speed and cutback ability in a draft that also saw Auburn's dynamic duo of Ronnie Brown(notes) and Cadillac Williams go in the top five that year. For Benson and the Bears, it never really worked out -- in three years with Chicago, Benson never rushed for more than 674 yards in a single season and his off-field activities (the "boating while intoxicated" charge is a personal favorite) had the Bears going back to the drawing board and selecting Tulane's Matt Forte(notes) with the 44th overall pick. Forte ran for 1,238 yards in his rookie season, while Benson had been waived in June of 2008 with two years left in his contract. After months of cooling his heels, Benson was picked up by the Bengals, who needed depth at the position and have never been shy about taking on reclamation projects.

Unlike most of those reclamation projects, however, Benson has paid off in a major way for the Bengals in their 2009 turnaround season. He currently ranks sixth in Football Outsiders' Rushing DVOA statistic, and he broke Baltimore's 39-game streak of preventing 100-yard rushers when Cincinnati upset the Ravens, 17-14, in Week 5. Benson's Bengals are facing the Bears today, and the man appears to have unfinished business -- he believes that the Bears tried to blackball him, spreading the word about Benson's issues on and off the field after his release. "(Teams) would call and inquire about me and get nothing but negative things. Just that I didn't work hard, that I was I guess a prima donna or I didn't work hard on the field, just wasn't focused, just anything negative that they could say, it was said. I'm sure that contributed largely to me not getting picked up right away." The Bears organization denies any blackballing, though it's standard operating procedure for teams interested in a waived player to do due diligence, and you can't expect the Bears to praise a guy they just cut loose. Not to mention the fact that in today's news avalanche, teams didn't need to hunt around to find word of Benson's problems.

Benson earned his rep before, and the best way to cast it aside is to keep his head down and keep running like crazy. He's got a good chance of success against a Bears defense lining up without super-tackle Tommie Harris(notes), and currently ranked 20th in DVOA against the run.

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