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Player Spotlight: Giovani Bernard

A detailed look at running back Giovani Bernard's fantasy outlook on the 2016 Cincinnati Bengals

Is Giovani Bernard quite possibly the best running back to draft in 2016?

Let's cut to the chase - what do we know about Giovani Bernard

  1. In three years in the league, he has never finished lower than RB22 in standard scoring, or RB19 in PPR format.
  2. He averages 49 receptions per year and has never had less than 43 receptions in any one season. 
  3. His current ADP is RB29 in standard scoring, RB27 in PPR. 

If the status quo remains the same, Bernard should be a Top 20 running back in 2016, especially in PPR scoring leagues. After the Top 20 running backs are drafted, another 7-9 backs are selected before Bernard. That screams value. But now the question is...

Why is he being overlooked?

  1. After scoring 8 touchdowns in 2013 and 7 touchdowns in 2014, Bernard followed up with a mere 2 touchdowns in 2015. To put bluntly, Bernard's scoring chances and scoring output have decreased since his rookie year. 
  2. The Bengals Offensive Coordinator, Hue Jackson, who ran a run-heavy offense, has moved on to Cleveland. Some fantasy enthusiasts are concerned the ground game dominance will tail off with Ken Zampese calling the offensive plays. Perhaps that isn't necessarily a bad thing for Bernard?
  3. There is also the threat of Jeremy Hill monopolizing the ground game, leaving Bernard with change of pace opportunities and consequential statistics to match. 
  2013 2014 2015 2013 2014 2015
  Carries inside the 5 yard line Rushing touchdowns inside the 5 yard line
Jeremy Hill x 14 16 x 6 9
Giovani Bernard 8 8 4 3 4 0

Reasons for targeting Bernard in 2016

Offensive personnel changes - Ken Zampese, the Bengals quarterbacks coach since 2003, was promoted to offensive coordinator in the offseason. Zampese was an offensive assistant with the Rams in their hey-day of "The Greatest Show on Turf" with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Zampese learned offense under Arthur Rhodes and Mike Martz and has seen first hand how running backs are a big part of a successful offensive game plan. The expectation is that Cincinnati will employ a more explosive passing attack that will feature more opportunities for Bernard as a pass-catcher. This is nearly the opposite strategy of Hue Jackson's consistent and efficient rushing philosophy that benefited Jeremy Hill's game more than Bernard's. 

ADP benefits - At the time this is written, Bernard's ADP is RB27 in PPR format. If you decide to go light on running back in the early part of your draft, Bernard is an excellent option as an RB2 or even RB3. Saving your running back picks for later affords you the ability to concentrate on the wide receiver, tight end or quarterback position and still have the luxury of obtaining a Top 20 running back in the late fifth or sixth round. 

Projections indicate he'll be more than a change of pace back - Last year Bernard had a career low 154 carries, but his 4.7 YPC average gave him a career-high 730 rushing yards. He's a virtual lock for 150 carries with the possibility of reaching greater heights combined with 50 receptions. Even if he doesn't find the end zone often, that's still a strong effort that likely will result in a Top 20 finish, which is all you need from your RB2 or RB3. 

Injury Promotion - In the event of a Jeremy Hill injury, Bernard automatically becomes a must start fantasy running back. That alone makes him a valuable running back selection, especially someone you can get at a discount in the draft process. 

Positives

  1. Never finished worse than RB19 in PPR. Projected to reach 150 carries and 50 receptions.
  2. Current ADP makes him an excellent value as an RB2 or even RB3
  3. New explosive offensive philosophy in Cincinnati is the perfect offense for a back with Bernard's skill set

Negatives

  1. Coming off a career-low two touchdowns in 2015
  2. While Bernard is expected to share rushing duties with Jeremy Hill, the majority of those will come from Hill
  3. ADP is expected to climb as we get closer to September, which progressively decreases his value.

Final Thoughts

There may not be a better running back target in the late fifth or early sixth round in re-draft leagues this year. At the time of this publication, Bernard is going in the mix of Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews, Melvin Gordon and Jonathan Stewart. Of those backs Bernard is the greatest threat for over 150 carries and 50 receptions. The Bengals offense, led by Ken Zampese, is evolving into a more dynamic attacking style that will feature plenty of pass-catching opportunities that benefits Bernard greatly. It would be a shock to see Bernard finish outside of the Top 20, given his history and the changes ahead for the Bengals offense. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more definitive Top 20 back in the same draft position as Bernard. That reason alone makes him someone to target for your roster. 

Projections

 

Games

Carries

Yards

TDs

Targets

Receptions

Yards

TDs

Fumbles

Haseley

16

153

669

3

64

52

476

1

1

Other Viewpoints

Shawn Siegele - Rotoviz - Giovani Bernard Well-Positioned to Take a Leap in 2016
"A faster-paced more pass-heavy offense would seem to fit Cincinnati’s offensive talent and benefit Giovani Bernard. He won’t fit all rosters or risk profiles, but he does provide a cheap source of RB2 value. It’s almost certainly misleading to suggest he would have Freeman-like value in the case of a Hill injury, but he would be an easy RB1 in such a scenario."
Evan Silva - RotoWorld - Sees upside but also stresses caution - Bengals Fantasy Preview
"Giovani Bernard rebounded last season with career highs in rushing yards (730), yards per carry (4.74), and yards per catch (9.6). He finished No. 14 among 52 qualified backs in Pro Football Focus' Elusive Rating and deservedly out-snapped Hill 628 to 508."

"While Gio's on-field performance and efficiency metrics impressed, his fantasy impact continued to underwhelm. Bernard's RB35 finish in non-PPR points per game was actually a career low, while he cleared 15 PPR points in only 3-of-16 games. Gio simply doesn't score touchdowns, which renders him nothing more than a weekly flex option regardless of fantasy format."

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to haseley@footballguys.com