After a torn ACL cost him his first season of college football, Gio Bernard bounced back to set the North Carolina freshman rushing record and lead the ACC in rushing touchdowns. For a follow-up, Bernard led the ACC in rushing, scoring, touchdowns, and all-purpose yardage in 2012 despite missing two games with a knee injury. Despite two years of college eligibility remaining, Bernard opted for the NFL and was the first running back off the board on draft day.
At 5-foot-8 and 202 pounds Bernard is a tad undersized for the NFL, but he’s well-built with good balance and drive and an effective stiff arm to fend off would-be tacklers. While he doesn’t have home-run speed he has plenty of burst and elusiveness; he also has the patience to wait for holes to develop and the vision to find them. Bernard is an effective and experienced (92 receptions in two seasons) receiver with a good understanding of pass protection, though he will need more strength and/or better technique to be effective in that role in the pros.
As a smallish back Bernard draws some inevitable comparisons from scouts, though there’s nothing wrong with being linked to the likes of Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Brian Westbrook. While scouts differ on whether or not Bernard could ever develop into a true feature back at the NFL level—primarily due to his size and durability concerns—they’re largely unanimous in projecting success as a third-down/change of pace back. In Cincinnati that’s the role he’ll be expected to fill immediately: BenJarvus Green-Ellis can work between the tackles and at the goal line while Bernard takes over the speed back gig Bernard Scott has never quite been able to fill. There is obvious PPR upside, as well as the possibility for dynasty leaguers that—much like the aforementioned Rice, MoJo, and Westbrook—Bernard plays bigger than his physical stature and does become an every-down feature back.