Can Gio Bernard win offensive ROY?

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
7:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- I'll be honest. I haven't been giving the question posed above as much contemplation as I probably should.

That will soon start to change.

I certainly haven't been thinking about it quite as much as my ESPN.com colleague Josh Weinfuss, who rolled out his Week 11 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award watch list Thursday. It's a good list. There's Eddie Lacy, the Green Bay Packers' first year tailback, listed -- probably deservedly -- first. Then there's Mike Glennon, the former North Carolina State quarterback who finally led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first win of the season Monday night.

After him comes the man fans who frequent Paul Brown Stadium know quite well: the Cincinnati Bengals' electric and mostly elusive ballcarrier, Giovani Bernard.

Third is a pretty good spot for Bernard, but if this were my list (and nothing at all against Josh; I really like the rest of the list), I'd probably move him up to No. 2.

When it comes to Rookie of the Year awards and Most Valuable Player contests, I'm from the old school. Team performance and a player's impact on that team ought to be taken into consideration, in my opinion. For instance, even though Peyton Manning likely will coast to AFC MVP honors this year, a strong case could be made for Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali. He's already got nine sacks and has been a big reason why the Chiefs are 9-0. Even though I'd ultimately vote for Manning, guys like Hali have unique value to unexpectedly solid teams like the Chiefs. They deserve to get consideration.

OK, so some of you say the Rookie of the Year isn't quite like the MVP. The ROY more specifically awards individual performance instead of measuring a player's value to a team. I get that. But still, like I said before, this '80s baby is from the old school. I'd have a hard time awarding a player on a 3-13 or 2-14 team the Rookie of the Year award over a player who's captivating style of play can be directly linked to his team's likely postseason inclusion, and possible postseason advancement. That advancement would be a big deal in Cincinnati if it happened, too. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Bell Biv Devoe released its hit "Poison" and Hammer Pants were a thing (read: 1990).

So far this season, Bernard has 419 yards rushing on 95 carries. That's the third-highest rushing total among rookies. He's also caught 38 passes for 308 yards. That's the most receiving yards for any rookie running back. His 723 yards of total offense trails only Lacy, and his seven total touchdowns are two more than any other rookie has accumulated so far.

Glennon, who sports a 1-5 record as Tampa Bay's quarterback, has completed 59.6 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,304 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. That isn't a bad line for a first-year quarterback on a struggling team. Still, Bernard's impact on a team full of proven playmakers has him one-upping Glennon, in my humble opinion.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what Bengals running back coach Hue Jackson has to say about his young running back who is only one half of the two-man tailback rotation the Bengals feature.

"He's a good football player. He's a tough football player," Jackson said. "That's why we brought him here. I try not to give all these accolades because at the end of the day, that's what they're here for: to play good. He knows that. But the thing I'm most impressed by in him is that this is now going on to Week 11 and he hasn't missed a beat. So we got the right guy. At the end of the day, that's what you want to feel good about. We knew it when we drafted him."

As a second-round pick, Bernard was selected 37th overall in April's draft.

While Jackson isn't happy with the way the Bengals' rushing offense has progressed this season, he is content with the way Bernard has been splitting carries with veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

"Some guys have different skill sets and we can respect that," Jackson said. "It's tough in this league to have just one runner. I'm not going to say that day is gone, because Adrian Peterson is doing it in Minnesota, and there are a few guys across the league that can do it. But you're also seeing across the league where some guys are now injured or hurt or missing a game or two because of their backs or whatever, and sometimes that's just wear and tear. That's why we try to keep our guys pretty fresh."

Green-Ellis said earlier this week that the rotation has actually made him healthier as the season has progressed. After breaking a thumb and suffering an ankle injury early in the season, he believes he's closer to 100 percent now because Bernard has been there to relieve him. Injuries kept Green-Ellis without a true backup last year.

So, considering his rotation, considering how much he gets used in the Bengals game and considering how explosive Bernard can be -- he has seven rushes and 11 receptions for 10 yards or more -- a case could be made that he's the top offensive rookie in the league.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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