If you are a team looking to add some kind of spark into your running attack through this year’s draft, you may be out of luck. There really are not a whole lot, if any, great running backs in this year’s draft class. Depending on who you ask, the 5’10” 205 pound Giovani Bernard out of the University of North Carolina is at worst the 2nd or 3rd best running back in this year’s draft, and that is telling of the quality of running backs this year.
Giovani is not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, and any team taking him in the second round would not be making the biggest mistake in the world, I just don’t see this kid making a huge impact in the NFL. Bernard had some decent stats while at UNC, over 1000 yards in back-to-back seasons, double-digit touchdowns, and he was a decent punt returner. There are some holes in his game however that I believe will make it very difficult to find success at the next level.
To start, Bernard is not going to kill you with his speed. Giovani is expected to run somewhere in the 4.5s in the 40-yard dash in the upcoming combine. While that is far from slow, I’m not sure if he has some of the other characteristics that make a great running back. In the end his 40 time may not matter; two of the most successful running backs from last year’s draft, Alfred Morris and Doug Martin both had times over 4.5.
What separates those two players from Giovani is their ability to make good cuts and make guys miss. Giovani is not the kind of player that is going to run through you, or juke you out of your cleats. He doesn’t have the kind of quickness or strength where he is going to be one of the hardest players in the NFL to bring down, he very rarely made those kind of plays at UNC.
On a lot of Bernard’s big plays, it didn’t seem that he did something to really break one as much as it was his offensive making a big hole. Bernard had the benefit of a top-notch offensive line, including Jonathan Cooper at guard who is projected as a first round pick in April.
As a punt returner, Bernard was decent at best. In 16 returns this past season he had about 260 total yards and 2 touchdowns. He did however have a big return against NC State that went for a game-winning touchdown. Making a big play like that against your in-state shows that Bernard is a clutch-type of player. Sometimes being clutch though isn’t enough, you must be consistently good to be successful in the NFL. He also made several mistakes returning punts that led to turnovers. In the end I wouldn’t trust Bernard to return punts in the NFL.
One of the most positive things I can say about Giovani is his skills at pass blocking. For someone who is not overly big, Bernard seems to be ale to pick up blitzes very well as a running back. Players who have that kind of skill are very often third-down backs in the NFL, however I just don’t see Giovani flourishing on third down since he is not a prolific pass catcher.
Giovanni’s strengths as a runner seem to be shown more in the red-zone. On film, Giovani showed much better vision and cutting ability in close range within 20 yards than he did in the middle of the field. Bernard keeps his legs moving when in a scrum and that is a good characteristic for a running back at the next level.
I don’t see where Giovani fits in the NFL. He does not have the look or feel of a feature back, he doesn’t have the hands or agility of a third-down back. There are some teams who use the “running-back-by-committee” approach that could find a spot for him but I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Giovanni really should not go anywhere before the middle of the second round, even though he is still one the best running backs available this year. He seems like a smart, hard-working player, but I would be very surprised if Bernard became a star in the NFL.
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