With their rookie seasons now done, we've been taking a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players to see what went right and what went wrong for the members of a group that could comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.
We started near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and worked our way up to the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.
Because of injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals haven't been discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.
2013 stats: Appeared in every game. Rushed 170 times for 695 yards, caught 56 passes for 514 yards and eight total touchdowns in the regular season.
How acquired: Second-round 2013 draft pick.
The good: Overall, Bernard had a better rookie season than most outside the locker room could have anticipated. After veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried Cincinnati's running game down the stretch in the 2012 season, there was a little uncertainty about how the balance of carries would go for him and his young teammate. While Green-Ellis typically started games in single-running back sets, his carries always seemed to be mirrored by Bernard by the end of those contests. Even though Green-Ellis had 50 more carries and 60 more yards at the end of the regular season than Bernard, the rookie still ended up being an even bigger piece to the offense because he had more than 400 receiving yards more than his older teammate. Used in the screen-passing game, Bernard was a vital piece in the Bengals' attempts at moving the ball downfield. His ability to catch and make defenders miss tackles made him an explosive offensive weapon, the likes Cincinnati has seldom had in its existence.
The bad: There was only one glaring mistake Bernard had and it seems he's already begun moving on from it. Near the end of the first half of the Bengals' playoff game against San Diego, he caught one of his typical screens deep in Chargers territory, but as he turned to approach the goal line, the ball was punched out. He had his second fumble of the year, and it may have been a costly one. The Chargers fell on it right away, taking away the potential touchdown that it seemed the Bengals were about to score. Instead, after a defensive hold, Cincinnati got the ball back and kicked a field goal before going into halftime. Throughout the second half, three more Bengals errors that had nothing to do with Bernard gave San Diego even greater life and allowed the Chargers to roll to a 27-10 win. Aside from just simply not getting the ball tucked away quickly enough, Bernard had a strong season, one that made him one of the team's key offensive players.
Looking ahead: It's clear Bernard will be a Bengal for quite a long time and it's becoming even clearer that he will have an enormously large role in the offense in the coming seasons. With new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's promise to run a little more to take some of the pressure off quarterback Andy Dalton, you can be assured of seeing Bernard's carry total increase, along with Green-Ellis'. The success the Bengals had passing to Bernard last season also is a sign that he'll continue to get the ball out of the backfield that way, too. After rolling up more than 1,200 yards of total offense, look to see him challenge 1,500 in the coming seasons. That's what he'd like to see, at least. Also, pay close attention to what happens next offseason to Green-Ellis as he goes through free agency. His combination of age and an expired contract could change the way Bernard gets used from 2015 forward.