By Mike Beacom
Camp Battles: Bengals RBs – Green-Ellis vs. Bernard
In the 45-year existence of the Cincinnati Bengals, no running back has reached the 1,500-yard mark, and not since Rudi Johnson (2006) has a back scored 10 or more touchdowns in a single season.
Cincinnati should be a rushing town – cold, working class – but right now the team’s identity is shaped by the young passing combo of Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. The running game? Fans have learned to temper their expectations.
In April, the team invested a second round pick on Giovanni Bernard of the University of North Carolina. He played just two seasons in the ACC, but was a star both years. Instantly Bernard was believed to be in the hunt for the starting job. Of course, to succeed he must dislodge BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who joined the team prior to the 2012 season after a productive stay in New England where backs are asked to share. Green-Ellis was given the full workload last season and struggled until November when he came to life and helped push the Bengals into the postseason.
Now Bernard and Green-Ellis are locked in one of August’s most exciting camp battles. Green-Ellis’ name appears atop the depth chart for now, but Bernard is already drawing praise from the coaching staff.
Why Green-Ellis is the best choice: He’s a proven commodity. Over the past three seasons Green-Ellis has recorded two 1,000-yard campaigns and 30 rushing touchdowns. Numbers fantasy owners can appreciate. Everyone thought Green-Ellis would fall flat in his first season in Cincinnati last year but he did fine, especially down the stretch when fantasy owners needed him most (four 100-yard games in the second half of the regular season). He even averaged 5.7 yards in the playoff loss to the Texans. Green-Ellis is still just 28 years old and bigger than his rookie competitor. Long term there is no question the Bengals and new head coach Jay Gruden are looking to make a change; but for right now, Green-Ellis gives the team its best shot at getting back to the playoffs.
Why it’s Bernard: Excitement. The Bengals volunteered for Hard Knocks because they are desperate to bring interest to their franchise. The team earned a playoff trip last year but very little buzz. Outside of the Dalton-to- Green connection, what is there to draw fan interest? Bernard is a big-play back, evidenced by his 2012 campaign for the Tar Heels. He missed a pair of games and still reached 1,200 yards (for the second time) thanks to explosive performances against some heavy hitters. He lit up Virginia Tech (262 rushing yards), carried 27 times against Miami, and had more than 90 yards receiving against both North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. In fact, there is talk the Bengals will utilize Bernard as an extra receiver in some packages. Now, when is the last time the Bengals had a back able to do so many things this well?
Don’t forget about: Cedric Peerman
Ok, it might be safe to forget Peerman, but it’s worth noting that he averaged 7.2 yards last year for a Bengals backfield that averaged 4.1 as a unit. His efforts included 75 yards against the Chiefs and 61 yards against the Raiders in back-to-back weeks. But if Peerman is to become relevant in this race he’ll certainly need to put his best foot forward; this offseason he injured a foot chasing down a man who had allegedly stolen his girlfriend’s cell phone and later injured an ankle in Virginia Beach.
Who fantasy owners should pull for: Bernard
Green-Ellis can be a serviceable No. 3 back (a spot No. 2) but he’s boring. His potential has a ceiling, and it’s not high enough to draw much fantasy interest. Bernard has no ceiling. And while fantasy owners often make the mistake of overpaying for rookies for this very reason, in this case it’s ok – Bernard’s asking price (i.e. ADP) is affordable and his upside every bit as enticing as any rookie on the board.