The Bengals Locked Up One of the Game’s Best All-Around Backs at a Bargain Price

Cincinnati signed Giovani Bernard, an ultra-efficient runner and receiver, to a team-friendly deal. What's it mean?

Giovani Bernard doesn’t score a lot of touchdowns -- just two trips to the end zone in 203 touches last year -- and he’s never gotten 200 carries in a season. Those two things keep him fairly undervalued, outside of PPR leagues, as far as fantasy football goes.

They don’t, however, take away from the fact that he’s one of the game’s best all-around running backs.

Coming off a superb season, Bernard was entering the final year of his rookie deal. The Cincinnati Bengals made sure their ultra-efficient weapon didn’t sniff the open market, and they did it at a team-friendly price, locking up Bernard with a three-year, $15.5 million deal.

An All-Around Weapon

Here at numberFire, we use Net Expected Points (NEP), an in-house metric, to cut through the box score bologna and tell us what’s really going on. It’s an extremely useful tool to show us the real impact a player is having on his squad.

You can check out our glossary for a more thorough explanation, but here’s a quick-hitting interpretation: why should a 5-yard run on 3rd-and-7 count the same as a 5-yard run on 3rd-and-4? It shouldn’t. NEP accounts for that.

According to NEP, Bernard was one of the league’s elite producers last season, ranking among the top rushing backs and top receiving backs.

Typically thought of as a passing-game specialist, Bernard checked in 10th in Rushing NEP per carry among backs with at least 100 attempts in 2015.

Player Rushing Attempts Rushing NEP/Carry
David Johnson 125 0.147
Thomas Rawls 147 0.084
DeAngelo Williams 200 0.071
Mark Ingram 166 0.070
Todd Gurley 229 0.034
Le'Veon Bell 113 0.028
Devonta Freeman 264 0.028
Rashad Jennings 195 0.022
LeGarrette Blount 165 0.017
Giovani Bernard 154 0.014

Bernard's reputation as a pass-game wizard is justified, though. He fared even better as a receiver, ranking fifth in Reception NEP per target among backs with at least 40 targets.

PlayerTargetsReception NEP/Target
David Johnson570.74
James White540.69
Danny Woodhead1070.54
Jeremy Langford420.53
Giovani Bernard660.51
Dion Lewis500.51
Theo Riddick990.5
Charles Sims700.47
Matt Forte580.42
DeAngelo Williams470.42

He can turn a swing pass or a screen into a huge play with his agility and wheels.

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Bernard’s elite 2015 production wasn’t a one-year fluke, either.

He didn’t quite reach his 2015 heights as a second-year player, but Bernard was still extremely productive as a two-way threat in 2014. Among backs with at least 100 carries, he ranked 22nd in Rushing NEP per attempt (-0.04), and among running backs with at least 50 targets, he checked in 10th in Reception NEP per target (0.32).

A Bargain for the Bengals

Considering his top-end production, Bernard’s average annual value of $5.2 million is kind of a steal.

Here are the 10 highest-paid running backs in the game, per data from, sorted by annual salary:

Player Total Value Average/Year Guaranteed Money
Adrian Peterson $42,000,000 $14,000,000 $13,000,000
LeSean McCoy $40,050,000 $8,010,000 $18,250,000
Jonathan Stewart $36,500,000 $7,300,000 $11,500,000
Doug Martin $35,750,000 $7,150,000 $15,000,000
Jamaal Charles $27,750,000 $6,937,500 $3,950,000
Lamar Miller $26,000,000 $6,500,000 $14,000,000
Chris Ivory $32,000,000 $6,400,000 $10,000,000
DeMarco Murray $25,500,000 $6,375,000 $12,000,000
Ezekiel Elliott $24,956,338 $6,239,085 $24,956,338
Giovani Bernard $15,500,000 $5,166,667 N/A

Bernard checks in 10th, bumping C.J. Anderson off the top-10 list with his new pact. Of course, the most important number with any NFL contract is the guaranteed money, but that info hasn't be released for Bernard’s new deal. A safe ballpark estimate would be around $7 to $10 million in guaranteed cash.

In addition to the bargain price, Bernard won’t be very old by the time this deal is done. Entering his age-25 campaign, he will be just 28 at the end of the contract, meaning Cincinnati has nailed down a top performer in the prime of his career for a very favorable amount of dough.

It’s a massive win for the Bengals.

Fantasy Impact

It'll be status quo in the Cincinnati backfield. With Jeremy Hill and Bernard splitting the work -- Hill had 238 touches in 2015 while Bernard logged 203 touches -- Hill finished as RB14 last season while Bernard was RB21 (in standard leagues). Hill made his hay by scoring touchdowns, reaching pay dirt 12 times (11 rushing) despite totaling just 873 yards. Bernard was on the other end of the spectrum, scoring just twice despite racking up 1,202 yards.

The way Cincinnati deploys Hill and Bernard -- with Hill being the goal-line back -- gets some of the blame for the lopsided touchdown numbers while part of it is just random luck. In his first two seasons, Bernard finished with eight and seven touchdowns, respectively, despite averaging just 15 more touches (218) per year.

Since a lot of fantasy owners don't want backs who are splitting carries, especially the non-goal-line back of the tandem, it keeps Bernard's cost down. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Bernard is currently the 77th overall player off the board in standard leagues with an ADP of the 31st running back. Despite his good 2015 numbers, that's only slightly better than where he was going a year ago when he was the 36th running back taken and finished as RB18.

Bernard has already proven he can provide RB2 numbers, which he's done in each of the past two years, and he comes at a discount. What makes him even more enticing is his upside. With his per-play efficiency, Bernard could be a monster if he ever got the backfield to himself.

There's a lot to like about Bernard in 2016, and if you're a Bengals' fan, there's a lot to like about his new contract.