Bengals could draft RB early even with Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard

Do the Cincinnati Bengals still believe in Jeremy Hill, or will we see them take a running back early in the 2017 draft?

The Bengals' running back situation isn't great at the moment. The Bengals made a commitment to Giovani Bernard last year, but he's recovering from a torn ACL. Hill, who spent most of the season playing through a shoulder injury that occurred in Week 4, had several stretches where he averaged fewer than 2 yards per carry.

Rex Burkhead, who got his big chance when Bernard went down, ended the season with an average of 4.6 YPC (with a significantly smaller sample size than Hill's), likely giving the team something to think about as the season ended. However, Burkhead is set to be a free agent. Unless the team plans to shuffle the running backs around to give Burkhead a bigger role, it's likely he will look elsewhere.

Hill is entering the final season of his rookie contract, so it's not a bad idea for the Bengals to have a backup plan, even if he bounces back and has his best season in a contract year.

The Bengals believe in the "best player available" draft philosophy, if at all possible. So taking a running back in the first round is not out of the question, particularly with the class of running backs available.

LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook are considered the best in the draft, and one or both could be gone before the Bengals even pick at No. 9.

There's also the question of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who was suspended for the entire 2014 season after punching a female student in the face. Mixon was not invited to the combine after a video of the incident was made public in December.

The Bengals have taken chances on players with character issues before, and it's likely they'll do their due diligence by bringing him in for a visit prior to the draft.

It wouldn't be out of the question for the Bengals to take a running back in this draft, even as high as one in the first round if he's the best player left on the board.