Mar 07

Fantasy Stock Watch: Buy Giovani Bernard, but not his 300 touch hype

Now for another installment of our Fantasy Stock Watch periodical. This series takes a look at players who either exceeded their anticipated contributions this year, or failed to live up to them and what we can expect come 2014. The biggest concern: you want to draft based on value, rather than paying for stats that will be hard to repeat and/or paying an expectant price for development that may not come.


Fantasy Stock Watch 2014: Other Entries

Robert Griffin IIILeSean McCoy/Jamaal CharlesJosh Gordon
Andy DaltonC.J. SpillerRiley Cooper
Drew Brees vs. Aaron RodgersRashad JenningsCordarrelle Patterson
Matt RyanMontee BallMichael Crabtree
David WilsonAce Sanders/Kerry Taylor
Trent RichardsonDennis Pitta
Frank GoreRueben Randle
Chris Johnson
Ray Rice
Giovani Bernard

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Coming off a strong debut, there is buzz building around Bengals RB Giovani Bernard and his 2014 workload (Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Coming off a strong debut, there is buzz building around Bengals RB Giovani Bernard and his 2014 workload (Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2013 ADP: 65 (RB26)
2013 Position Rank: 
RB16 (40 Overall)

2013 Expectations: Giovani Bernard

The first back taken in the NFL entry draft Bernard wasn’t even taken as a fantasy starter in August despite his presence on numerous sleeper lists, including our own. Bernard came to the league with the profile of an explosive runner, after averaging 6.7 yards per carry at the collegiate level in 2012 though there were concerns noted on his scouting profile about size and durability at the NFL level. His abilities as a receiver projected him as a three down back, but with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in town it was assumed that Bernard would have to work his way into the role.

Most observers suggested Bernard was worth a late pick in 2013 fantasy drafts with an eye toward his eventually taking the lion’s share of the touches in the Cincinnati backfield, hopefully by mid-season.

2013 Results: Giovani Bernard

Things more or less played out as scripted for Bernard, as he had no more than nine touches in his first two games and a maximum of 16 through his first five weeks but in that same time frame, he showed himself to be a much more dynamic back than incumbent starter BJGE including a huge prime time performance against Pittsburgh in Week Two that featured two touchdowns and 65 yards on just nine chances.

From Week 6 through the end of the season, Bernard averaged 15 touches a game finishing the season with 170 carries and 56 receptions for an impressive 1209 yards. Along the way, he scored eight rushing and receiving touchdowns including another two TD output mid season.

Beyond the numbers, his ability to make people miss was evident as there were numerous instances of Bernard reversing field and making positive yardage out of nothing. Of course, his shiftiness occasionally caused problems as there were examples of his running away from pressure only to find himself tackled for a loss as well. Still, when a guy can turn a nothing play into this you’ll take the good with the bad.

He finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 10th most elusive running back forcing a combined 44 missed tackles on those 226 touches. Further, with strong efforts as a blocker he tied fellow rookie Eddie Lacy as their fourth overall rated back on the season.

As the season wore on, Bernard appeared to have lost a bit of his explosion both by the eye test and the numbers. In five December games, despite netting easily the most touches he had in any month of the season (79) Gio gained just 400 total yards including a 3.55 YPC average which was .74 fewer than in any other month.

2014 Outlook: Giovani Bernard

Things look much different for Bernard than they did a year ago. For starters, he has a year of (productive) NFL experience under his belt, but also he’ll enter the season as the unquestioned key contributor in Cincinnati’s back field mix. Beyond that, he’s changing offensive coordinators as Jay Gruden departs for Washington and Hue Jackson takes over the reigns of the offense.

Green-Ellis still factors into the mix as he is earning North of $2 million in the final year of his three year pact with the Bengals, but I do expect the Bengals to focus on getting Bernard going from the jump, at the expense of some of the Law Firm’s workload. There just simply is no rational mind who can argue that Green-Ellis is more effective or more likely to break a big play than Bernard. He is, perhaps, more suitable to grinding it out between the tackles but their averages on runs between the tackles last season were actually fairly close.

Meanwhile, the outlook for the run game looks up with Jackson at the helm. In his two years with Oakland, split between Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach, Jackson’s offense finished 2nd in all of rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards per attempt the first year and 7th in all categories the next – never finishing outside of the top 7 in total rushing attempts either. Cincinnati will run next year, and Bernard will be a big part of it.

Excitement about just that, and about Bernard’s role in the offense is picking up in recent days with the team’s website posting a projection that he will ‘no doubt’ border on 300 touches. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about his potential as much as the next guy but just nine backs topped 300 touches this season (just two had more than 300 carries) and only one of the nine saw that high a workload with fewer than 250 carries (Knowshon Moreno with 241 carries and 60 receptions just qualified).

Bernard, meanwhile, had 170 carries in his first season and we’ve already acknowledged that he was less efficient (and therefore presumably less explosive, effective) as the season wore on. Whether this fact is a result of the fact that it was Bernard’s first full season, or the fact that he is a bit on the smaller side for a three down running back it should give us pause. Not so much about his ability, or even his fantasy relevance, but it would be foolish to assume that the team – and coordinator Hue Jackson didn’t notice this fact. He’ll need 230 carries at a minimum to hit the 300 catch mark which represents an increase of more than 37% over last season – a workload that he already diminished a bit as a result of.

As a result, I don’t think he’ll get 300, and I’d suggest that neither Bengals fans and fantasy investors don’t want him to. I’m as big a proponent of volume as anyone, but in this situation Bernard doesn’t need 20 touches a contest to be effective. Take the fact that he’ll be on the field more frequently as a plus, and enjoy a 260-280 touch workload from Bernard. He was good enough this season to finish just outside RB1 territory with 226 opportunities so lets not get greedy. Take the anticipated 40-50 additional chances, and ride them to a back end RB1 season but don’t expect much more in terms of workload next season.

Bigger role? Absolutely

Run first coordinator? Check

2013 talent? Bonafide

Bordering top 10 touches league wide in 2014? Not a chance

The equation adds up to a solid year ahead for Bernard, just don’t find yourself overpaying for him six months from now because of overblown projections of workload made in March.


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  1. Daniel

    So what do you think?
    Gio as a 3rd round keeper or rashad jennings as a 14th round keeper? Any advice would be appreciated

    1. Jon Collins

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for asking. You’re getting more value out of Jennings relative to his ADP at the 14th round of course, and judging by the two rounds/presumed 2013 price tags this would be the last year you’d be eligible to keep Bernard I’m guessing. So, a few logical signs point to the new Giants RB.

      With that said, the RB pool thins out quickly in keeper formats and I think that Bernard’s role (even if it is more in the 260 touch range) is much more clearly defined than that of Jennings who may see himself losing time to David Wilson if he proves healthy. He’ll be running behind a better offensive line, too.

      As a consensus back-end RB1, I think you take Gio for the 3rd even though he is less of a value play than Jennings at that price tag.

  2. Nick S

    I have a follow up Q to this article. Which one of these RBs should I keep, the league is non-ppr and the round that I lose a pick in for keeping them is in parenthesis:

    Jamaal Charles (in the 1st round)
    Giovani Bernard (in the 7th round)


    1. Jon Collins

      Hey Nick,

      Thanks for asking. I’m expecting Charles to be among the league’s best, and I’ve made an argument for him as the #1 overall pick next season… unquestionably, he’s a top tier RB1 after what we saw in his first year in Andy Reid’s system.

      That said, while you’re keeping a stellar player, you’re only getting an additional 5-10 picks or so in value depending on where you’re picking in the draft order.

      With Bernard, if camp reports pan out well and we figure he’s going to be the starting back/see, say, 260-290 touches next year he’s got legitimate RB1 value… so, he’s probably a round 2/3 pick, and you’re getting him as a seven.

      For me, he’s the better value than Charles but obviously there are a number of variables (league settings, rest of the player pool, costs of keepers/who else is being kept, etc.). I’d keep Gio and then go after another top tier back in the first round… from there, you wont have to think about RB again until somewhere in the round 4/5/6 range depending on how things play out, leaving lots of opportunity to fill out the rest of your roster.

      1. Nick S

        Here are the other factors involved and maybe you can use them to lead me even more in the right direction.

        -Every consecutive year you keep a player, the draft cost is 1 round more expensive.

        -We get two keepers, my other one is going to be either Michael Crabtree or Keenan Allen, both would cost me a 12th round pick.
        ->Which of these should I keep? And does the fact that I’m keeping a high end WR2 in the 12th round change the mind set of taking Gio’s 7th round value over Charles’ 1st round proven talent?

        -Again the league is non-ppr and since we get two keepers (different positions) in a 12 team league I am forcasting that about 3-6 of the top 12 RBs will be chosen as keepers by their owners.

        Thanks so much, loved the article!

        1. Jon Collins

          Hi Nick:

          Re: bullet one, I should have absolutely considered that in my response/now that you’ve laid it out, I think it is about as clear as it gets. You’re getting one year of Charles (who you may be able to get anyhow depending on where you pick in round one) vs. 3-4-5 years of Giovani Bernard depending on how his career plays out.

          Knowing that the keepers have to be from different positions, then I’m ok to say take a WR, otherwise I’d probably tell you to go RB/RB.

          I think you keep Crabtree. He showed enough down the stretch last season to suggest that he can be a big difference maker in San Fran if healthy. I liked everything we saw from Keenan Allen, too… but expect a bit of a regression from Rivers next year.

          – Lastly, keeping the WR has no bearing whatsoever on keeping one RB over the other. I understand there is strategy involved in building a roster, but my big push for next year’s NFL draft strategy is ‘good players play good, period’. So… rest of roster composition, who your opponent has, etc. shouldn’t matter when choosing between two players at the same position.

          At any rate, Gio ios the final answer – likely in terms of year one value and certainly in terms of long term production for your fake team.

          Glad you liked the read, do come back!

          1. Nick S

            Thanks so much!

            One more quick one then I’ll shut up. I think Crabtree could be better this year but doesn’t Keenan Allen have more long term value in keeping him for years to come starting in the 12th round and a one round increase per year?

            Again thanks on the RB help and I plan on keeping Gio and your advice certainly affirmed that for me.

            1. Jon Collins

              Genuinely, we appreciate you reading so never apologize for questions. Crabtree is just 26, not 36. I think he has plenty of long term value, and his QB situation is more secure moving into the future than is Allen’s.

              I could be wrong on this one, and I haven’t really sat down to determine their 2014 (and beyond) value… that’ll be a project for later in the offseason… so if your mind says Allen then I cannot debate it after an impressive rookie season. In my very preliminary overall ranks I had Crabtree three (overall) spots ahead of Allen so I don’t see a ton of distinction here.

  3. Bobby

    I think he’ll be a better option than last year. I still wouldn’t be crazy about drafting him though.

    1. Jon Collins

      Hey Bobby – thanks for writing, and I’m inclined to agree… that’s more or less what the article is saying here. I think he’s a solid RB, and a nice fantasy option. I just don’t think a) he’s a 300+ touch back or b) he needs to be to be better than he was in 2013. He’ll definitely have more work, and he should stay productive, thus he should improve his fantasy value year over year.

      To all: Bobby’s site, ffwhitepapers.com referenced in his profile is a neat concept.

      1. Bobby

        I’d be curious to see what his ADP is when people really start doing mock drafts after free agency has calmed down.

        1. Jon Collins

          Yah, it’ll be an interesting thing to keep an eye on as I think there is certainly a point at which he becomes too pricey… and if this type of discussion around workload carries into the preseason/draft time, he could surpass it.

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