Bengals factoid: Was Gio already top RB?

June, 18, 2014
6/18/14
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One of the storylines to come out of the Cincinnati Bengals' organized team activities and minicamp practices the last four weeks has to do with Giovani Bernard's placement among the running backs.

If the OTAs and minicamps are any indication, the second-year back will enter training camp as the Bengals' No. 1 option in the backfield with rookie Jeremy Hill backing him up, and sometimes appearing on the field with him as the No. 2 option. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis might have gotten the most carries of any player last season, but it appears he's slipped below Bernard and Hill on the depth chart. Backups Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead also got their share of snaps during the spring.

So it stands to reason that Bernard is beginning to slip into a new role as the de facto starting running back.

But is he really taking on a "new" role? We answer that question with Tuesday's factoid: 50.5.

If we use his statistical production as our primary backdrop, we see that Bernard already -- barely, mind you -- had top back duties in the Bengals' offense last season. He either caught passes or had carries on 50.5 percent of all the plays that went to Bengals running backs last season. Using those standards alone, that's enough to say that he was the Bengals' No. 1 running back, even though Green-Ellis' veteran status seemed to afford him unofficial honors as the "starter" at the position.

One thing we do have to make clear before we go much further is the fact that there really wasn't, at least last season, a true starting running back on the team. The Bengals ran so many two-back sets and somewhat evenly shared the receiving and running load between Green-Ellis and Bernard that it was hard to truly call one a starter over the other. They played complementary roles, with Green-Ellis as the bruising, physical, between-the-tackles runner, and Bernard the shifty, explosive, fast, corner-hitting, pass-catching back who could break wide open a big gain at any time.

While Bernard didn't have as many carries that went beyond 20 yards as Green-Ellis had the year before (Bernard had three in 2013, Green-Ellis had seven in 2012), the potential for the younger back exists to have a slew of big-play runs if a host of other factors come together. If he gets the right blocks, holes and creases, Bernard's speed alone could get him over 20 yards on carries often.

Now how do we get to 50.5 percent?

Last season, Bengals running backs combined for 418 carries (Green-Ellis had 228, Bernard had 182 and Peerman had eight). They also combined for 67 receptions (Green-Ellis four, Bernard 63). That's 485 plays overall. Of those 485 receptions and carries, Bernard had 245. That number equals 50.5 percent of the running backs' production from last season.

When we look at the number of snaps for Bernard and compare them to Green-Ellis, they also let us know Bernard had top-back duties in 2013. As a rookie, Bernard was on the field for 589 plays, the 18th-highest figure among league running backs. Green-Ellis played 452 snaps, the 30th most for a back last year.

So, to answer the question at the top of this factoid, yes, Bernard already has been the Bengals' top running back, although the perception is that he's moving into a new role this season. He's handled being the Bengals' No. 1 option well before. We'll see how he handles slightly greater responsibilities this fall.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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