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Gio Bernard Could Be The Preeminent Fantasy Football Running Back Value

Bengals RB Gio Bernard
Bengals RB Gio Bernard

Aug 8, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) runs the ball in the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Those drafting their various fantasy football teams later in August likely won’t have the chance to cash in on the screaming value of Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back Gio Bernard.

And if your draft is slated for the next week, you’re in luck: There’s every reason to believe Bernard, the 29th running back off the draft board, has potential to crack the top-15 runners in 2013, with even more upside in point per reception (PPR) formats.

Bengals coaches, including offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, haven’t played the typical rookie games with Bernard this summer. Gruden has complimented Bernard’s speed, shiftiness, and toughness, and perhaps most importantly, his ability and willingness to pick up the blitz.

Bernard, unlike so many rookies bursting with fantasy potential, seemingly won’t be held back by the common struggles of a rookie runner.

Even before Bernard gained 44 yards on 13 touches in the Bengals’ preseason opener and 59 yards on eight touches a week later, Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Joe Reedy said he fully expected a 50-50 split in the Bengals’ backfield.

Yes, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has inherited the King of Plodders crown with the demise of Michael Turner, will still get his opportunities. Our question should be: How many?

Let’s see what sort of fantasy production Bernard can generate in the case of an even backfield split.

Gruden, in his two seasons at the Bengals’ offensive helm, has called an average of 443 rushes at a pretty dismal clip of four yards per attempt.

Player Rushes/Yards Per Carry Yards
Gio Bernard 221/4.0 YPC 885
Gio Bernard 221/4.5 YPC 994
Gio Bernard 221/4.8 YPC 1,060

Pretty heady stuff, especially if Bernard can push up toward five yards per tote. The best part about this projection is that Bernard doesn’t have to hit his projection peak to provide considerable fantasy value.

It’s much more difficult to anticipate Bernard’s passing game production since Bengals running backs have reeled in a grand total of 61 receptions over the past two seasons. The team’s screen game, in other words, doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way.

That should change with Bernard, who caught an averaged of 46 passes during his two seasons at the University of North Carolina, has taken on a Sprolesian role so far this preseason. Whether it’s leaking out of the backfield or burning a linebacker underneath, Bernard has looked like a legitimate weapon in a passing attack that hasn’t extended much beyond A.J. Green under Gruden’s watch.

Below is a rundown of Bernard’s range of receiving prospects.

Player Receptions/Yards Per Catch Receiving Yards
Gio Bernard 30/6 180
Gio Bernard 40/6 240
Gio Bernard 50/6 300

 

Player Receptions/Yards Per Catch Receiving Yards
Gio Bernard 30/7 210
Gio Bernard 40/7 280
Gio Bernard 50/7 350

Combining the lowest rushing and receiving projections would give Bernard 1,065 total yards. Throw in three touchdowns and he’d be well within the top-24 running backs in standard and PPR leagues. The top projections would put Bernard right around RB15 range, or 14 spots higher than his average draft position among running backs.

We haven’t considered the rosiest possible scenario, in which Bernard seizes the starting gig from Green-Ellis, becomes a consistent and dangerous passing game threat and sneaks toward top-12 running back status.

I don’t think anyone would deny that that possibility exists, however, and that’s reason enough to snag Bernard in the middle of the sixth round. I’d much prefer Bernard to fellow rookie Montee Ball, who’s going a full round earlier with no discernible role in the Denver Broncos’ offense.

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