Giovani Bernard Fantasy Forecast

Giovani Bernard FantasyNew Changes for Bengals Offense?

“We just got to go into it with an open mind and [Hue] Jackson’s going to create the craziest playbook ever, but it’s going to be fun. I’m excited for it.” Those are the words of Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and from a fantasy perspective, they’re rather encouraging. Bernard is coming off a stellar rookie season in which he amassed over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns. He served as an explosive, high-energy compliment to his backfield counterpart BenJarvus Green-Ellis and he was electric in the passing game.

Who’s Hue?

Following former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s departure to become the head coach in Washington, Bengals running backs coach Hue Jackson was the clear and easy favorite to take over Cincinnati’s offense. He’s familiar with the team, players like him and he has the resume. “We will throw it. We have too many talented players not to throw it. Please, don’t ever think we won’t,” Jackson told the media. “That’s not what I’m saying. I think in order to establish who you are as an offensive football team, you have to be able to put your hand down and block the guy in front of you. You have to be able to attempt to run over the other team. If you can’t do that in this league, you have no chance of winning.” Those are strong words spoken by a coach who’s committed to the run, with a track record to prove it. The last time he called plays in the NFL was as the Raiders coordinator in 2010 and then the Raiders head coach in 2011. Jackson’s teams ranked second and seventh in rushing. Needless to say, there shouldn’t be any concern regarding Jackson altering his offensive philosophy in an attempt to highlight the secret and well-hidden talents of Andy Dalton. For any lurking winds with the chance to lift the quarterback’s sails, it will start with a push from the Bengals rushing attack. Last season Green-Ellis drove fantasy owners nuts as he carried the ball 220 times despite averaging a miserable 3.4 yards per carry, while Bernard was handed the ball just a measly 170 times. According to Jackson, we can expect that ratio to shift in Bernard’s favor, with the 22-year-old back receiving an increased number of handoffs in 2014. “He’s going to have a lot,” Jackson said smiling. “I can promise you.”

Building on Last Season

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Forecasting projections for Bernard next season seems a bit lofty at this point, but there’s no denying the solid foundation he laid last year. He demonstrated his ability as a legitimate dual-threat running back, with toughness and home run potential. In addition to his 170 carries, Bernard was the second-leading receiver on his team behind only Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. It was those receptions that propelled Bernard’s fantasy output, especially in PPR formats. Bernard averaged 9.2 yards per catch and caught more than two passes in nine of his 16 games last season. Bernard’s 56 receptions ranked eighth among running backs, leaving no reason to doubt he couldn’t improve on that number and rival Pierre Thomas’ league-leading 77 catches from last season. With more action will come more receptions and Bernard is too valuable in the passing game for a team to leave him out of it. Perhaps the most significant bedrock production number from Bernard last season was his 0.99 fantasy points per touch in PPR formats. Compare that to last year’s top running back Jamaal Charles, who averaged 1.16 points per touch and you get a reassuring feeling for the potential Bernard offers every time he touches the ball.

Concerning Factors

Giovani Bernard 2013 Stats

Opp. Rush Yds Avg Long TD Rec Tgt Yds TD
BAL 13 22 1.7 7 0 5 7 51 0
MIN 13 20 1.5 4 0 2 4 47 0
@PIT 13 33 2.5 7 1 2 4 13 0
IND 12 99 8.3 20 0 4 4 49 0
@SD 14 57 4.1 19 0 1 2 9 0
CLE 10 45 4.5 13 0 4 5 41 0
@BAL 14 58 4.1 18 0 8 8 37 1
@MIA 9 79 8.8 35 2 4 4 25 0
NYJ 5 18 3.6 5 0 1 2 9 0
@DET 7 27 3.9 7 0 5 6 32 0
@BUF 15 28 1.9 7 0 6 7 72 1
NE 13 62 4.8 28 0 2 3 7 0
@CLE 10 37 3.7 6 0 6 7 38 0
GB 10 50 5 17 1 4 4 49 0
PIT 8 38 4.8 8 1 1 2 27 1
@CHI 4 22 5.5 7 0 1 2 8 0
Totals 170 695 4.1 35 5 56 71 514 3

There are two concerns with Bernard going into next season. Depending on what kind of draft value you place on him, they could serve as either major or minuscule factors. First and foremost, there’s worry regarding Bernard’s durability. More carries mean more hits and the 5’9”, 208-pound back has yet to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season and/or effectively carry a big league workload. Last year, after suffering a rib injury in Week 9, Bernard demonstrated his toughness and battled through the pain to remain a productive weapon. While that stands as a good indicator of work ethic and desire, it was still enough to make fantasy owners nervous. Dating back to Bernard’s college days at North Carolina, his highest number of carries came as a freshman in 2011 when he rushed the ball 239 times in 13 games. As a sophomore the following year, Bernard carried the ball just 184 times in 10 games. That’s not to say Bernard doesn’t have fresh legs. In fact, because he wasn’t overly used at North Carolina and wisely decided to enter the draft when he did, Bernard is really as prime as they get. Despite all that, the durability concern is a smallish, grey cloud for fantasy owners. Secondly, the running back committee in Cincinnati — albeit a pretty lopsided one — creates question marks in terms of Bernard’s consistency throughout the entire season. We’re all confident he can produce when he gets the ball, but will Bernard get his fair share of touches playing alongside the Law Firm and whoever else the Bengals decide they want to bring in? Certainly Hue Jackson’s latest comments help downplay the latter of the two, but are something to keep in mind when drafting, trading or attempting to steal.

Where, When and How?

At the start of a new 14-team PPR dynasty league last year, I selected Gio Bernard with the last pick in the third round (No. 42 overall). Some pointed and laughed, claiming I was reaching. Others said I watched too much Hard Knocks. Come to think of it, there was probably some validity in both of those claims. From a pure fantasy perspective, all I kept thinking about was future dividends. I was investing in an explosive running back with a dual-threat skill set who had plenty of years ahead of him. While we can expect Bernard’s market price to increase this year, I won’t contest my approach from a year ago. Bernard carries slightly more juice in dynasty leagues due to his age, but from a production standpoint, he’s a premium flex option and a reliable RB2 in PPR leagues. If you missed out on the Gio sweepstakes last season and you’re looking to barter, rest easy coming off a first-round pick. There isn’t much to love about the incoming rookie running back class, but the receiver pool is talented and deep. If you can send a first-rounder and some pieces in exchange for Bernard, it’s a trigger worth pulling.

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