Do running backs really matter? Based on their recent draft history, the Bengals seem to think so.
Three of Cincinnati’s last seven picks from the second round have been running backs, and two of them remain on the roster. They even spent a fourth-round pick on one last year, knowing he wouldn’t see the field much in his rookie season. Depth at the running back position has rarely been an issue for the Bengals, the difference now is that they have a legitimate star leading the group.
As we progress into the ballcarriers of our position review series, let’s take a look at the running backs going into 2019.
2019 potential free agents:
The Bengals leaned on Joe Mixon in the run game this year, which was the right decision. He is an incredible athlete and needs to be prominently featured. Despite missing two games with injury, Mixon led the AFC in rushing, making him one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs of the year.
Giovani Bernard filled the archaic role of the third down back; taking the majority of third-and-long and 2-minute drill reps. Overall, Bernard was underutilized. He only saw more than 6 carries in games where Mixon was out with injury and only had more than 4 receptions twice.
When both Mixon and Bernard were dealing with injuries, rookie running back Mark Walton saw limited time and was generally underwhelming. In the span of a few weeks this offseason, he’s been involved in two off-the-field incidents as well.
2019 Outlook and Need
Mixon is an extraordinary player. He should be the centerpiece of this offense, and not just the running game. He should be used in the passing game for more than just check downs and screens. Hopefully, Zac Taylor sees Mixon as someone who can do everything Todd Gurley does in Los Angeles. If he does, Mixon could establish himself as one of the biggest stars in the NFL.
As a result of Mixon’s evolved role, there likely won’t be many carries for Bernard, but with his skill set, he should be on the field. Both backs should be used on the field together more often, with at least one lined up at receiver.
Mixon and Bernard give the Bengals two very good rushers, but they could still add depth to the position, just as the Rams demonstrated this year. Walton and fellow second-year player Quinton Flowers have potential to fill this role, but have not demonstrated anything to prove that they can. Walton remains with the team in the aftermath of his incidents, but a new coaching staff means there will be little loyalty showed for him.
It is not out of the question for the Bengals to look to acquire another running back through the draft or free agency, but it is doubtful they would invest too much to get a player at this position with what they currently have.
Author: Matt Minich