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
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
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.