Will Joe Mixon Render Gio Bernard and/or Jeremy Hill Irrelevant?
The problem with drafting a Bengals running back over the past couple of seasons is that committee situations can cannibalize upside in fantasy. Head coach Marvin Lewis thinks second-round pick Joe Mixon is "off the charts talent-wise." Mixon also profiles very similarly to Ezekiel Elliott.
It may be time to reevaluate the backfield situation in Cincinnati.
Off-field issues aside, Mixon probably deserves the keys to the offense sooner rather than later—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Giovani Bernard was a full participant on the first day of Bengals training camp, avoiding the PUP list after he was reported at one time to be in danger of missing the first couple of regular season games.
Jeremy Hill has seen his value plummet in drafts, but he is in a contract year, and has finished inside the top 20 at the position in each of the past three seasons on the shoulders of nine or more touchdowns each season.
The Bengals' offensive line could definitely be an issue, but could that actually increase the receiving role of the team's running backs? Will Bernard maintain a stranglehold on passing-down work? Will the Bengals continue to lean on Hill at the goal line, or will he quickly become a non-factor in favor of Mixon?
Rushing Expectation, which balances metrics with film evaluation—one of the toughest things to do in fantasy football—can provide clues as to how to attack the Bengals' backfield in 2017 fantasy drafts.
Rushing Expectation: Giovani Bernard
Watching Bernard, it doesn’t take long to realize that his athletic ability is nearly elite, and that his balance when making cuts and making defenders miss in the open field is inexplicably rare.
Last offseason when I charted Bernard, his ability and talent level jumped off the screen—but his efficiency metrics underwhelmed. Let’s see if anything has changed. First, here is Bernard's sample size by direction:
From a talent perspective, there is a lot to like about Bernard on film. His agility is rare. He is very good at changing direction in the open field and reducing the ability of a defender to take a good angle.
Cincinnati had a slightly below-average Expected Success Rate on rushing attempts last season (44.4%). Despite subpar offensive line play, Bernard improved from a rushing Expectation Score in the 8th percentile in 2015 to one in the 49th percentile in 2016.
For the second straight season, however,Bernard struggled to post good after-contact numbers, tying C.J. Prosise’s 2016 season for the worst of my 60-player sample. If Bernard gets loose, he is a unique threat in the open field, but he goes down far too easily on first contact.
Bernard has rare burst and can accelerate quickly enough to get to the corner while using his hands and stiff arms very well to work through contact. Bernard’s strength is solid, but as a smaller back, he has to pick his spots better when he attacks defenders.
With a 66th percentile yards-before-contact average relative to my sample, I found Bernard to have very good elusiveness behind the line of scrimmage—though he faced eight or more in the box at a frequency in the 10th percentile. I found his vision to be very good. He is consistently exploiting small creases and knows when to bounce a play away from the intended hole. As an undersized interior runner, Bernard has above-average mental processing as far as judging angles, which is very important.
Surprisingly, the Bengals were the second-best team in the NFL in regards to blocking for running backs in the passing game, posting an receiving Expected Success Rate of 49.5 percent.
In the receiving game, Bernard can do it all. For a running back, he displays rare skill in running routes, and is violent with his cuts. He is a constant threat in the flat, and also through the outside or inside receiving areas when the opponents aren’t considering him a primary option. He can also line up as a wide receiver and do damage in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
Bernard received the majority of his targets to the inside, his most efficient area of the field in ‘16. Overall, he posted a respectable (for a pass-catching specialist) 51st percentile receiving Expectation Score, a slight drop-off from 2015, when he finished in the 66th percentile.