You probably remember Hue Jackson mostly as the failed Raiders head coach, which is an unfortunate label because it forever puts him in the same sentence as Tom Cable, a place where no name should reside.
But he’s still gainfully employed as a football teacher of sorts, now with the Bengals as the running backs coach, and an assistant to head coach Marvin Lewis. In that capacity he said something pretty encouraging about a rookie running back who may take a bit of time to emerge, but he has the potential to be rather stud-like by mid-season.
Let’s meet Giovani Bernard, Jackson’s every down player.
Bernard was the first running back off the board in April when the Bengals traded up with the Raiders to select him early in the second round (37th overall). Immediately, there was a problem with that landing spot for fantasy footballing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Despite his plodding and overall suckage with 3.9 yards per carry in 2012, the Bengals are still seemingly bent on having a platoon to start the season. That may still be true, but if we’re in the business of reading far too much into words spoken by position coaches in early July (you better believe we are), there’s an indication that an early split may not last long.
“Having evaluated him and watched every game he played this year and had a chance to work him out, and having spent a lot of time with him,” Jackson said of Bernard, “he has that skill set where I think he could play and be an every down player.”
The basic qualifications for an every-down running back are the ability to run in any situation (pop outside for an early long gain, or bang some bodies for short yardage), be an efficient pass-catcher out of the back field, and most importantly, pass block.
Jackson thinks Bernard is capable of all those things, and right away. He’s certainly capable of the first two after finishing with 1,228 rushing yards on 6.7 yards per carry during his final season at North Carolina, and 490 receiving yards with 17 total touchdowns.
On to the matter of pass blocking: read Matt Waldman‘s breakdown of Bernard’s blocking from the 2011 season. Yes, it’s dated, but that matters little. In fact, that makes Bernard’s future prospects even more encouraging if he was so effective and reliable early on in his career as a Tar Heel. He was trusted so much that he was left in the backfield alone and asked to take on a defensive end by himself with no help as a redshirt freshman.
Bernard has always been the only Bengals running back to own for fantasy purposes, but there’s some understandable hesitancy around him which will linger because of Green-Ellis’ presence. Currently he should be the third rookie running back off the board behind Montee Ball and LeVeon Bell, with the latter ideally selected first and leading the group. With uncertainty in the Denver backfield, Bell may be the only rook getting consistent carries right away.
Then the slug fight for late-round quality rookie RB value will be between Eddie Lacy and Bernard, and give me Bernard. Lacy may lead the platoon in Green Bay, but the Packers were very much bent on a drastic improvement in their running game and support of Aaron Rodgers, and it showed when they also added Johnathan Franklin. Then when we consider the rest of the debacle in the Packers’ backfield which now still includes Alex Green, James Starks, and DuJuan Harris, a whole lot of headache awaits.
Bernard only has Green-Ellis and his woeful average-ness to replace. Translation: by the end of September, he could meet his RB2 ceiling.